- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Democrats’ star witness against President Trump delivered a stark warning Thursday, saying both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of buying into Russia’s disinformation campaigns, and it’s tearing the country apart.

Fiona Hill, former senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the impeachment inquiry and other ongoing debates about the 2016 election are exactly the kind of “chaos” Moscow intended when it meddled, feeding bogus stories to both parties.

She said Russian operatives spread bad information about both Mr. Trump in the form of the Steele dossier, and Democrats’ nominee Hillary Clinton, ensuring that whoever won would emerge under a cloud of suspicion.

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And it worked, with ongoing questions about Mr. Trump becoming Russia’s dream scenario.

“What we’re seeing here as a result of all of these narratives is that this is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” she said. “They have everybody questioning the legitimacy of a presidential candidate, be it President Trump or potentially President Clinton, that they would pit one side of our electorate against the other, that they would pit one party against the other.”

Ms. Hill was one of the key closing witnesses Democrats called for the final scheduled day of open hearings in the intelligence committee, which has spearheaded the impeachment push so far.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and the panel chairman, said Ms. Hill had important information about U.S.-Ukraine relations and the increasingly bizarre efforts of the Trump White House to deal with that country’s government.

She testified that she was concerned by efforts involving Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, that seemed to be independent of the normal channels of diplomacy. Those efforts are at the center of Democrats’ impeachment case.

Mr. Schiff and fellow Democrats said Ms. Hill could provide evidence Mr. Trump bought a bogus Moscow-fueled storyline that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the election.

Ms. Hill did largely reject the case for Ukraine meddling, calling it a “fictional narrative.” And she said it does serve Russia’s interests to believe — as Mr. Trump apparently did — that Ukraine was a “perpetrator of malign acts against us.”

But she rebuffed Democrats who said Mr. Trump was “adopting Mr. Putin’s view” by pursuing that line of inquiry, saying the same theory was advanced by some in the U.S., too.

“I think we have to be careful about the way that we phrase that,” she said.

As one of the country’s top Russia experts she also put a final nail in Democrats’ belief in the so-called Steele dossier, a collection of salacious and largely disproved narratives about Mr. Trump that emerged in the final days of the campaign — and that the Obama administration used to justify secret surveillance of the Trump team.

“I thought it was a rabbit hole,” she said, agreeing that Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy hired by Democrats to collect dirt on Mr. Trump “got played” by Kremlin disinformation.

“The Russian government was trying to lay their own bets but what they wanted to do was give a spread,” she said of the 2016 election. “They wanted to make sure that whoever they had bet on, for whoever they tried to tip the scales, would also experience some discomfort, that they would be beholden to them in some way. That they would create just the kind of chaos we have seen in our politics.”

“I just want again to emphasize that we need to be very careful as we discuss all these issues not to give them more fodder that they can use against us in 2020,” she added.

Republicans seized on her warning.

“That is so true,” Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, told reporters after the hearing. “What is happening is not good for our culture, not good for our nation, and yet the Democrats do not care.”

Democrats, though, said Ms. Hill also served their purposes by showing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 campaign isn’t far afield from the Ukraine episode.

“She has done a great job of linking the Mueller report with the current Ukraine episode,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat. “She has explained in a lucid way how we need to combat the propaganda that is emanated from the Kremlin.”

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