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Impeachment witness scolds Republicans on panel: Stop helping Putin

Fiona Hill, former top Russia expert on the

Fiona Hill, former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, at the public impeachment hearing Thursday. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Ken Cedeno

A fool's 'errand'

Fiona Hill was brought to the National Security Council of Donald Trump's White House in 2017 as a widely respected expert on Europe and Russia. When she left in July, Hill testified before the House impeachment inquiry Thursday, the policy she helped formulate — to engage Russia while discouraging bad conduct — had been hijacked.

The full realization came to her only this week, after reviewing the story given to the House Intelligence Committee by Gordon Sondland, the EU ambassador tasked by Trump to work with Rudy Giuliani and get Ukraine to investigate Trump's foes. 

"He wasn’t coordinating with us because we weren’t doing the same thing that he was doing," Hill said. “ … He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged."

What she did see and told Sondland in July, Hill said, was: "I think this is all going to blow up." She added, "And here we are." She didn't just mean the turmoil of the impeachment inquiry. She implored Trump's defenders — and implicitly Trump himself — to stop peddling a “fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services” to blame Ukraine, instead of Russia, for the 2016 U.S. election interference. 

“These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes,” Hill said. The Russians under Vladimir Putin, she said, “deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives." The result is "partisan rancor" when "external forces, as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”

Thursday's session was the last scheduled open hearing, though it's possible the committee could still call other witnesses. The committee has begun writing a report summarizing its findings, The Washington Post reported. When the panel finishes, proceedings move to the Judiciary Committee to draft specific articles of impeachment. That work could begin after the Thanksgiving recess.

Newsday's Tom Brune has five takeaways from the appearances by Hill and David Holmes, the political counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine who spoke about the call he overheard between Sondland and Trump. Here are links to video highlights of Hill and her opening statement.

Partisan lines still hold

While Democrats felt that they had made an ironclad case that Trump abused his power, they are no closer to persuading even a single House Republican to join them in voting to impeach the president, Politico reported.

One Republican on the intelligence panel, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a centrist who isn't seeking reelection, said Trump's "do us a favor" remark and mention of Joe Biden in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "inappropriate, misguided foreign policy." But it did not, Hurd said, add up to an impeachable offense.

Anticipating that the Democratic-led House will vote for impeachment, a group of Republican senators and senior White House officials met Thursday to map out a strategy, The Washington Post reported.

One scenario calls for rapid proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks — enough time to give the proceedings credence, in Republicans' view, without risking greater damage to Trump by dragging on too long.

Janison: Pro and Don

Among the many irritants that get under Trump's skin are government professionals doing their jobs, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. See Trump's wrath in his tweets and his Sharpie.

It happened late this summer when Trump altered a weather map to show Hurricane Dorian could have hit Alabama, contrary to what the National Weather Service office in Birmingham had said. 

State Department and National Security Council officials who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee this week ended up tracking another Trump-created storm path. The likelihood of Ukraine having been the "real Russia" in the 2016 election — a "theory" Trump promotes — echoes Dorian's fictional threat to Mobile Bay.

During his tenure, Trump has pilloried and demeaned his own appointees at the Justice Department, the FBI, the Pentagon, the Federal Reserve and the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump rages at Manhattan feds

Donald Trump on Thursday denounced New York-led investigations into his finances amid reports that federal prosecutors in Manhattan have issued a series of subpoenas to several Trump campaign fundraisers, writes Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

“Now the Witch Hunt continues with local New York Democrat prosecutors going over every financial deal I have ever done,” Trump tweeted. “This has never happened to a President before.” The Southern District of New York is being run by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a Republican who Trump appointed. 

The New York Times reported that Berman's office has subpoenaed a lobbying firm and two individuals who have raised campaign dollars for Trump. The subpoenas are part of an ongoing investigation into two associates of Giuliani who have been charged with campaign finance violations.

The president claimed on Twitter that special counsel Robert Mueller “went over all my financials, & my taxes and found nothing.” Mueller has made no such assertions, and Trump’s finances were not covered in the unredacted portions of Mueller’s 448-page final report.

Bloomberg puts in his papers

Mike Bloomberg took another step toward a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission that he plans to run.

An aide familiar with the billionaire's plans said the filing is "not a final decision or announcement," though that could happen within days. The step was required because he filed paperwork to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in Alabama and Arkansas earlier this month, and added Texas on Wednesday.

Should he run, he's likely to skip the first four states on the primary calendar and spend big in hopes of a strong showing in the so-called Super Tuesday states that vote in early March.

Wobble, wobble, wobble

Analysts thought Biden turned in a shaky performance at Wednesday night's Democratic debate. Christina Greer, Fordham University associate professor of political science, said Biden struggled to “answer a question directly” and appeared not to “think clearly or succinctly.”

Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker jostled to present themselves as the pragmatists they believe can mend the country’s divisions. “All the moderates are Bidens-in-waiting,” said California-based veteran Democratic strategist Rose Kapolczynski. “It’s a contest to inherit his support if he falters and fails.”

It's the potential opening that Bloomberg is looking for, too. For more takeaways from the debate, see Emily Ngo's story for Newsday.

What else is happening:

  • Trump ridiculed Holmes' testimony about overhearing the president on a call when Sondland held the phone away from his ear. "Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation," he tweeted.
  • Lev Parnas, the indicted Giuliani associate, helped arrange meetings and calls last year for Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, according an account by Parnas' lawyer to the Daily Beast. At the time, Nunes was looking to undercut the Russia investigation.
  • A Siena College Research Institute poll finds a dip in proportion of New York State voters who want Trump impeached and removed, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley. The 52%-44% majority who want Trump sent home early is smaller than the 57%-36% who wanted that a month ago.
  • Nearly $100,000 in purchases from the Republican National Committee helped land Donald Trump Jr.'s book "Triggered" atop The New York Times’ bestsellers list, BuzzFeed reports. The RNC listed the expense in an FEC filing as "donor mementos."
  • Trump on Thursday signed a short-term funding bill, averting the threat of a government shutdown until next month. That gives negotiators four more weeks to try to break an impasse involving funding for Trump’s border wall project.
  • In a win for Trump, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled invalid the state's new law that won't let presidential candidates be on the ballot unless they disclose their tax returns for the previous five years.
  • Trump tweeted Thursday that he won't let Navy leaders remove a SEAL demoted over a war crimes charge from the elite force. Eddie Gallagher, who has called his commanders "morons," has been championed by Fox News commentator Pete Hegseth.

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