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Bolton Was Concerned By Giuliani's Activities In Ukraine, Reports Say


We're learning that President Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, was concerned about Rudy Giuliani's activities in Ukraine. That's according to multiple reports coming out of the House impeachment inquiry. Yesterday former national security official Fiona Hill testified to congressional investigators behind closed doors. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is on the line from the State Department. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So Fiona Hill testified behind closed doors, but some information about her testimony has come out. What do we know?

KELEMEN: Well, we know it lasted a really long time. She was there for more than 10 hours. She raised concerns about how the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was treated. Remember - Jovanovic was withdrawn in May after a smear campaign led in part by Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And Hill also had concerns about Giuliani and another key figure in all of this, Gordon Sondland. He's the Trump donor who's now ambassador to the European Union and was tasked with dealing with Ukraine.

Together, Giuliani and Sondland seemed to be carrying out kind of a side foreign policy, not the one that was agreed to by the National Security Council. We're told, for instance, that Hill described a tense exchange between Sondland and National Security Adviser John Bolton about that.

KING: So Fiona Hill was working with John Bolton. What was the relationship between those two?

KELEMEN: Well, I've been told she worked quite well with Bolton. Fiona Hill, as long as I've known her, has really tried to stay above the political fray. She sees herself as kind of a nonpartisan expert on the region, someone who's - you know, she's a critic of Vladimir Putin, to be sure. She's someone who is a critic of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, but also someone who has spent her whole adult life studying Russia and the region. And she's known to be a kind of a nonpartisan political expert who knows how governments normally function. And so when she sees something that's out of the ordinary like this, she went to the Hill and talked about it.

KING: How did the White House feel about Fiona Hill's testimony?

KELEMEN: Well, the White House has been trying to block a lot of people from going up to testify. They see this as a Democratic-run kangaroo court, as they've called it. They tried to warn her against talking about anything that was - that would be of executive privilege. I should point out that Fiona Hill actually left the government - or she had turned over all her responsibilities before that phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. So she was not on that call and wouldn't have been able to talk about that part of this story.

KING: There are other State Department witnesses who are going to be testifying in closed-door hearings this week. Who are they?

KELEMEN: Well, one is Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent. He was the No. 2 at the U.S. embassy in Kiev until last year, and he was also a lead figure in U.S. anti-corruption efforts for the region before that. A day after his deposition, another career diplomat, Michael McKinley, has been called to appear. He just resigned last week as a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I expect, you know, these two will be talking a lot about how the U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was treated, among other things.

KING: NPR's Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.