White House official saw Giuliani as a ‘hand grenade’ who would ‘blow everybody up’
Two senior National Security Council officials told House investigators that they were alarmed by Rudolph W. Giuliani’s efforts to conduct a shadow U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine, including his push for what one called “partisan investigations” that could help President Trump, according to transcripts released Friday by House Democrats.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an expert on Ukraine who still works in the White House, and Fiona Hill, who resigned in July as the president’s national security advisor on Russian and European affairs, voiced similar concerns about Giuliani’s unconventional demands to leaders in Ukraine and how to work with — or around — him.
They also said Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and Gordon Sondland, a Trump financial donor who was appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union, operated outside traditional channels in the alleged quid pro quo — withholding nearly $400 million in U.S. aid while demanding Ukraine investigate Democrats — that is at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry.
Sondland, who testified last month, amended his original testimony this week to say he recalled telling Ukrainian officials that release of the U.S. aid would be contingent on Kyiv opening the investigations that Trump wanted.
Release of the lengthy transcripts Friday, the latest in a series this week, helps set the stage for a historic shift in the impeachment inquiry as the House Intelligence Committee prepares to launch the first televised hearings next Wednesday and Friday. Three veteran U.S. diplomats involved in Ukraine are scheduled to appear as the first witnesses.
Former national security advisor John Bolton appeared to share concerns that Giuliani, Sondland and Mulvaney were conducting an off-the-books foreign policy, according to the transcripts.
Hill said Bolton described Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, as “a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.”
Hill said matters came to a head after Sondland told visiting Ukrainian officials on July 10 that Mulvaney would only commit to inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House “if they were going to go forward with investigations.”
“Ambassador Bolton asked me to go over and report this to our NSC counsel, to John Eisenberg,” Hill said. “And he told me, and this is a direct quote from Ambassador Bolton: ‘You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this.’”
Eisenberg, who is legal advisor to the National Security Council and deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs, also has declined to testify.
Bolton, Hill said, “made it clear that he believed that they were making, basically, an improper arrangement” and were “predicating the meeting in the White House” on the Ukrainians agreeing to launch the investigations Trump wanted.
Democrats had subpoenaed Bolton to testify this week, but he declined, saying he would await a court ruling on whether he must comply.
His lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, told House lawyers in a letter on Friday that Bolton has more information on Ukraine that hasn’t been disclosed. But he reiterated that Bolton won’t testify without clarity from the courts, seemingly pressing the House to not give up on hearing his testimony.
Bolton was “personally involved in many of the events, meetings and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far,” Cooper wrote.
Mulvaney also defied a subpoena to testify Friday in the closed-door hearings.
During a White House news briefing in October, Mulvaney appeared to admit that the administration had in fact held up aid to push Kyiv to investigate a debunked claim that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election, and to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
"[Did] he also mention to me, in the past, that the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney told reporters, referring to the president. “Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money.”
Mulvaney later sought to walk back that statement, but Democrats consider it key evidence in the impeachment inquiry.
Vindman, a decorated military officer, was one of two officials who told lawmakers they were so troubled after Trump asked Zelensky in a July 25 phone call for a “favor” — investigations that could benefit his 2020 reelection campaign — that they expressed their concerns to National Security Council lawyers.
He told lawmakers he had “no doubt” that Trump was asking for a “deliverable” from Zelensky — a public announcement about investigating Democrats — before Trump would agree to let the newly elected leader of a struggling democracy visit the White House.
“The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation. That became clear as time progressed from how this thing unfolded,” he said.
Hill described a “blow-up” with Sondland during a June 18 meeting where the former hotel owner informed the veteran national security official that he was now in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
“I said, ‘Who has put you in charge of it?’” Hill recalled asking. “He said, ‘The president.’”
Vindman testified that Sondland said the request that Ukraine investigate Democrats had been “coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mulvaney.”
Vindman said he first learned on July 3 that congressionally-approved U.S. aid to Ukraine had been frozen. Two weeks later, he said, he attended a meeting where it “became crystal clear” that the hold came from Mulvaney’s office at the White House.
Both Vindman and Hill spoke of Giuliani’s significant but, from their perspective, troubling role in Ukraine policy.
Vindman said Ukrainian government officials reached out to him in April “for advice on how to respond to Mr. Giuliani’s advances, meaning his call to undertake these — what would come across as partisan investigations.”
Hill told lawmakers that she became aware of Guiliani’s sudden “strong interest” in Ukraine in early 2019 after seeing his TV interviews and reading articles in the Hill.
“Mr. Giuliani was asserting quite frequently on television in public appearances that he had been given some authority over matters related to Ukraine, and if that was the case, we hadn’t been informed about that,” she said.
“But he was making a lot of public statements and, you know, obviously making a lot of assertions, including about our ambassador to Ukraine,” Marie Yovanovitch, she added.
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a smear campaign orchestrated by Giuliani and his allies, Hill said.
She said the episode was one reason she left the administration.
“There was no basis for her removal,” Hill said. “The accusations against her had no merit whatsoever.”
Hill said she and other foreign service officers had been subject to similar vitriol. She described receiving death threats, phone calls and unsolicited door knocks at her home after joining the National Security Council, and said she was “furious” to see Yovanovitch targeted and intimidated.
She said Yovanovitch, who had pushed Ukraine to crack down on corruption, had “been subject to a pretty ruthless, nasty defamation” campaign.
The “most obvious explanation,” she added, appeared to be “business dealings of individuals who wanted to improve their investment positions inside Ukraine” and to “deflect” from the findings of the special counsel report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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