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Ex-White House Adviser Fiona Hill To Testify In Impeachment Probe


There's reason to believe today's open impeachment hearings could get heated. One of the witnesses is a Russia expert who spent 2 1/2 years on President Trump's National Security Council. And we have an early copy of Fiona Hill's opening statement.

She comes out swinging against Russia, saying the impact of Russia's, quote, "successful" effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. still remains evident and that it's tearing our nation apart. She says, quote, "I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016," end quote. In her closed-door testimony two weeks ago, Fiona Hill said much the same, telling Republicans they need to be more wary of Russian disinformation campaigns. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Fiona Hill is no stranger to Capitol Hill. A British-born foreign policy expert, she was with the Brookings Institution when she was asked to testify in 2016 about how the U.S. can deter Russia.


FIONA HILL: We've made a lot of mistakes in kind of miscalculating Russia's intent, and that's kind of something that has now come to bite us, frankly. We were taken by surprise by Crimea. We didn't foresee what they were going to do in Syria not because we didn't see them moving materiel and equipment in Syria. It's because we weren't able to anticipate what they might be doing.

KELEMEN: Hill has written books about Russian President Vladimir Putin and is a tough critic, though she bristles when she's called a Russia hawk. She says she was recruited by Trump's first national security adviser. Some of her friends were surprised when she joined this White House - not Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

KAREN DONFRIED: She was very clear in saying to me that she thinks that folks like her who have this deep policy expertise are preparing to go into government and try to make a positive contribution in support of U.S. interests.

KELEMEN: Hill became interested in Russia when she was studying in the 1980s. Toward the end of the Bush administration and the start of the Obama administration, she served as the national intelligence officer for Russia. That's a job Angela Stent had before that. Stent, who's now at Georgetown University, says Fiona Hill wanted to get back into government after the intelligence community concluded that Russia had interfered in U.S. elections.

ANGELA STENT: Having worked on this for all of her professional life, she thought that maybe not enough people understood the real problem here and maybe the Obama administration's response to the interference was a little slow. I mean, we know much more about that now. So I think she came there wanting to make sure that the U.S. pursued a pretty tough policy toward Russia.

KELEMEN: President Trump, who often says he doesn't know the people who are testifying in the impeachment inquiry, once mistook Fiona Hill for a secretary. Right-wing media claimed she had ties to George Soros, a common target for conspiracy theorists, as Angela Stent points out.

STENT: Even the first year that she was there, in 2017, she started getting these death threats. It's these conspiracy theorists, Alex Jones and then making into a, quote, unquote, "Soros mole." So she was concerned about that. I think it's gotten worse, clearly, since all of this has broken with Ukraine.

KELEMEN: During her closed-door deposition, Hill brought up those concerns, saying she's worried that lawmakers are, in her words, going to go down a rabbit hole looking for things that are not going to be helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020. She dismissed what she calls meta-alternate narratives about Ukraine, not Russia, meddling in U.S. elections. She says, early on in this administration, some of Trump's close advisers explained to the president that those theories were false.

The Russians attacked us in 2016, Hill told lawmakers. Now they're writing the script for others to do the same. If we don't get our act together, they will continue to make fools of us internationally, she went on to say. Behind closed doors, Hill was testy with lawmakers, often apologizing for that. Karen Donfried expects Hill to be tough in public too if any lawmakers try to bring up debunked theories about the 2016 election.

DONFRIED: That's a real challenge in the age that we're living in now is we want to base our policy as the United States on facts and the analysis that results from that, and we don't want to be led down an incorrect path by conspiracy theories or theories that have been debunked.

KELEMEN: Hill told lawmakers that she was disturbed that false attacks led to the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. We have permitted open season on our diplomats, Hill warned, and it could happen to anybody. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.