WASHINGTON — Rudy Giuliani’s scheme to open a shadowy back channel with the new Ukrainian government in order to damage Joe Biden was so ham-handed that even John Bolton, the mustachioed former national security adviser to President Trump, reportedly called it a “drug deal” and Giuliani himself “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”
That’s according to the closed-door remarks of Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert who served on the National Security Council under Trump and reported directly to Bolton. Hill, who left the NSC earlier this summer, gave an interview on Monday to congressional investigators as part of the impeachment investigation focusing on efforts by Trump, Giuliani, and their cronies to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate whether Biden as vice president used his influence to push out a Ukrainian prosecutor because the the official was scrutinizing an energy company — a company that had Biden’s son Hunter on its board. (There is no evidence that Biden pushed out the official, who was widely viewed as corrupt and ineffective, in order to protect Hunter’s company.)
According to Hill, Bolton was alarmed when he learned of Giuliani’s campaign, carried out with the president’s blessing, to pressure Ukraine to scrutinize Biden — what was essentially a shadow foreign policy that sidestepped the NSC and the State Department. Bolton told Hill to alert a lawyer for the National Security Council about Giuliani’s plot, and he distanced himself from the scheme, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton said, according to Hill.
“You had two parallel tracks,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters on Monday. “There was official U.S. foreign policy, and then there was the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani, which had all kinds of illegitimate purposes.” (Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Hill is one of several current and former government officials close to the Trump-Ukraine scandal who have spoken to investigators in Congress since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a formal impeachment investigation on September 24th. Last Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, described her own ouster after she refused to go along with Giuliani’s rogue mission to pressure the Ukrainian government. She told investigators that she was removed as ambassador “based, as far as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
And last week, two clients of Giuliani’s who helped introduce him to current and former government officials in Ukraine were arrested and indicted on charges of breaking campaign finance law, including funneling foreign money into U.S. elections.
The White House has demanded that current and former employees not cooperate with Congress’ impeachment investigation involving Trump and Ukraine. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone effectively declared war on House Democrats in a letter last week that said the administration would not cooperate in any way, shape, or form with the investigation, calling it an effort to re-litigate the results of the 2016 election. Legal experts on the left and right called the letter a “barely-lawyered temper tantrum,” “totally absurd,” and “further evidence of the deterioration of norms in the conduct of senior government positions.”
House Democrats show no sign of slowing down despite the White House’s histrionics and attempts at stonewalling. More current and former Trump administration officials are scheduled to speak with investigators in the days and weeks ahead, including Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U. who was allegedly right in the middle of Trump and Giuliani’s Ukraine plot. Other upcoming witnesses include Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, a Ukraine expert who tried to protect former Ambassador Yovanovitch from the Giuliani controversy, and T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, an adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was one of several people listening in on President Trump’s now-famous July 25th call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.