Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert on the National Security Council, began her testimony in the House impeachment inquiry on Thursday by delivering a stern and not-so-subtle rebuke of Donald Trump's most vociferous defenders. "Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did," she said in her opening statement. "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." By embracing this conspiracy theory for craven political purposes, Hill made clear, Republicans are doing exactly what Russia wants.
The hearing's most devastating exchanges, however, came during the time for lawmakers and their lawyers to ask questions of Hill. California congressman Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member and a reliably oafish defender of the president, used his time to more or less read right-wing buzzwords into the impeachment record. He asked the witness if she knew Nellie Ohr, Bruce Ohr, Glenn Simpson, Alexandra Chalupa, or Christopher Steele—all prominent figures in conspiracy theories about various Deep State plots to undermine the Trump administration—before ceding the floor to Republican impeachment counsel Steve Castor for more substantive questions. Hill seemed to look at Nunes with a bit of confusion.
Hill's testimony came a day after that of Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor-turned-U.S. diplomat who helped coordinate Trump's clandestine efforts to extort the Ukrainian government for political favors. At one point, Castor invited Hill to discuss a confrontation she had had with Sondland over his involvement in U.S.-Ukraine relations—a delegation of authority that baffled her at the time.
Asking a witness an open-ended question to which you do not already know the answer is a classic lawyer blunder, and Hill's response made him pay for it. "I said to [Sondland], 'Who put you in charge of Ukraine?'" she remembered. "That's when he told me, 'The president,' which shut me up." After hearing Sondland's testimony yesterday, she said, this assignment made a lot more sense. "What I was angry about was that he wasn't coordinating with us," Hill continued. "I've realized, having listened to his deposition, that he was absolutely right—that he wasn't coordinating with us, because we weren't doing the same thing that he was doing."
From there, Hill went on to implicate multiple senior Trump administration in Sondland's scheme—people who were doing the "same thing that he was doing," or who at least knew about it. "[Sondland] said to me, 'I'm briefing the president. I'm briefing chief of staff [Mick] Mulvaney, I'm briefing Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo, and I've talked to Ambassador [John] Bolton,'" she said. "[Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security and foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged."
For emphasis, she told lawmakers that she even warned her counterpart that the arrangement would end badly. "I did say to Ambassador Sondland, 'Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up.' And here we are." It was about as succinct a summary of the president's misconduct as any Democratic questioner could hope to elicit. All the while, Castor, who at points seem to fumble over his line of questioning, could only furrow his brow and nod.
After watching this exchange unfold, a few Republicans didn't even bother asking anything during their allotted time for speaking. "I actually have no questions for you that haven't already been asked, or any points that haven't already been made," began Utah congressman Chris Stewart, before launching into a four-minute monologue bemoaning the very existence of the "impeach-a-palooza" process. After Ohio congressman Brad Wenstrup offered his own question-free soliloquy that wrapped with a solemn declaration that it is time for the "Democrat coup" to end, Hill piped up anyway. "Could I actually say something?" she asked. As House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff allowed her to proceed, the hearing room microphones picked up Wenstrup's indignant protestations. "I yielded back. I didn't ask a question," he said.
The hearing's most bemusing exchange that did not involve partisan schadenfreude came when California Democrat Jackie Speier inquired about an anecdote from Hill's childhood in featured in a recent New York Times profile. "I understand that when you were 11 years old, there was a schoolboy who set your pigtails on fire, and you were taking a test," an incredulous Speier said. "You turned around and—with your hands!—snuffed out the fire, and then proceeded to finish the test. Is that a true story?"
Fiona Hill's delivery was as deadpan when recalling hair mishaps as it was when offering damning impeachment testimony. "It is a true story. I was a bit surprised to see that pop up today," she said. "It's one of the stories I occasionally tell, because it had some very unfortunate consequences: Afterwards, my mother gave me a bowl haircut, so for the school photograph later in that week, I looked like Richard III."
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Originally Appeared on GQ