Are the Trump impeachment hearings not “explosive,” “dramatic,” or “interesting” enough for you? That should have changed on Thursday with the coolly scathing testimony of Dr. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top adviser on Russian and European affairs.
As one particularly colorful detail from a New York Times profile of Hill reads, “Once, when she was 11, a boy in her class set one of her pigtails on fire while she was taking a test. She put the fire out with her hands, and finished the test.”
Who is Hill, what did she say, and how does her damning testimony fit into the impeachment inquiry at large?
Who is Fiona Hill?
She introduced herself on Thursday as a “nonpartisan foreign policy expert,” but that was rather modest. Hill is one of the country’s preeminent Russia experts, a Harvard-educated former intelligence officer who covered Russia and Eurasia under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; a fellow, and later a director, at the Brookings Institute, who literally wrote the book on Vladimir Putin: Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, a 520-page tome analyzing the Russian leader’s psyche.
In 2017, she joined the Trump administration as senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, the elite cluster of advisers who guide the president on foreign policy. Remember Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified earlier this week? Hill was his boss.
Why did Hill work for Trump?
Though the decision “strained friendships and made her a target of right-wing conspiracy theorists who spread rumors that she was a Democratic mole,” as the Times notes, Hill appears to have fallen into the category of experts who joined the administration out of a sense of civic duty, going “to work for the president thinking they might be the proverbial ‘adults in the room.’”
“I thought I could help...with President Trump’s stated goal of improving relations with Russia,” Hill testified on Thursday.
Despite her best efforts, Hill reportedly said in closed-door testimony in October that her time in the Trump administration ended up being “my worst nightmare.”
What did Hill say in her testimony?
In her opening statement, Hill took House Republicans to task—right to their faces, in a no-nonsense British accent too—for spreading conspiracy theories galore. Chief among them: doubting and downplaying the very real Russian interference in the 2016 election and, along with Trump and Rudy Giuliani, floating bogus stories suggesting Ukrainian meddling instead.
“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,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Hill further cautioned the danger of spreading such lies: “Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election,” she warned. “We are running out of time to stop them.”
All of this amounted to a cutting burn against GOP congressmen like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of the biggest peddlers of conspiracies about Ukrainian interference (supposedly to benefit Hillary Clinton). “Our nation is being torn apart,” Hill said. “Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined. U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized.”
Hill also confirmed that, as she understood it, United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (who testified on Wednesday) and Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney sought a “quid pro quo” with the Ukraine—the country would get a much-wanted meeting at the White House if it launched investigations into Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden son’s Hunter and his business dealings in the country. Hill said Sondland explained it after a July meeting: “That he had an agreement with chief of staff Mulvaney that in return for investigations, this meeting would get scheduled.”
What does Hill’s testimony mean for the ongoing impeachment inquiry?
Hill sends the clear message that Ukraine is not the enemy, but a country still under threat by Russia, and one that got tangled up in the alleged quid pro quo cooked up by Trump and Giuliani as they tried to undercut Joe Biden.
Democrats have already come for Giuliani and other Republican congressmen for casting doubt about Russian interference and spreading conspiracy theories about the Ukraine. In the Fox News spin zone, for example, that could always be written off as partisan fighting. But for Hill, a razor-sharp, nonpartisan adviser who has served presidents of both parties, to condemn the misinformation speaks far louder—or it should, anyway.
Why is Hill so mesmerizing?
“I would watch an [eight-]episode series that follows Fiona Hill around as she does mundane daily tasks,” former Jeb Bush staffer Tim Miller tweeted on Thursday. The Kristin Scott Thomas lookalike has been called a “boss” and a “baller” on Twitter, in part because of her steely composure, but also because of her astounding bio and triumphant American story: the daughter of a coal miner, she testified that she “grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent.” But “this background has never set me back in America.” On the contrary, Hill has now cemented her place in history.
Originally Appeared on Vogue