On Sept. 30, a profile of former Trump Russia adviser Fiona Hill — who has suddenly become a major player in the Ukraine investigation — was published and got a bit of play. One part that didn’t, surprisingly: Hill, described as a “Russia hawk” in the profile, had a long professional relationship with Christopher Steele, the man behind the infamous Trump dossier.
Fast forward a little more than two weeks and Hill was up on Capitol Hill giving testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry during the closed-door portion of the affair. A transcript of what she had to say was finally released on Nov. 8.
Again, even though her relationship with Steele was mentioned during the testimony, it wasn’t a major part of the coverage, even though there were several interesting takeaways from what she had to say.
Yes, Hill said that she thought the Steele dossier was a piece of work that was beneath the former British intelligence man. She thought he “had been played” and that it was very likely that the information had been influenced by Russia’s geopolitical aims, the National Review reported.
However, in that testimony, Hill made it clear in parts that she agreed with some of the dossier’s key takeaways — particularly regarding compromising information about President Donald Trump.
Confused? Here’s a breakdown of part of the Fiona Hill backstory a lot of people — especially the establishment media — seemed to have missed.
The Hill/Steele relationship came out in the Politico piece on Hill’s time as the White House’s senior director for European and Russian Affairs, which painted her as an “unlikely Trump adviser” and a “surprising pick in the first place.”
“A sober critic of Vladimir Putin — she described the Russian strongman just months before her appointment to the National Security Council as motivated to meddle in the U.S. presidential election and fond of ‘blackmail and intimidation’ — Hill also hailed from the Brookings Institution, the epitome of the D.C. establishment Trump had pointedly rejected,” the piece read.
“And she was recruited by K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn, who were out as Trump’s top two national security officials before Hill even formally started. She had even worked with Christopher Steele, the British ex-spymaster behind the salacious dossier that rocked the early days of Trump’s presidency.”
The Steele association was described as “a particularly heavy piece of baggage that either didn’t bother Trump or never crossed his radar: a former working relationship with Steele.”
“According to people familiar with their relationship, the two British Russia hands are not exactly friends. But they have known each other for years, beginning when Hill was working on Russia at the National Intelligence Council and Steele was on MI6’s Russia desk,” Politico reported.
“She had a high opinion of Steele, and thought he was very smart,” a source said.
Hill, furthermore, had met with Steele during the 2016 election cycle — during which time Steele was collecting information on her future employer. She’d told then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster “as soon as she was hired” that she knew Steele and intimated she thought that Steele might have been misled in the name of a Russian misinformation campaign.
During her closed-door testimony, Hill seemed to bolster this interpretation of things.
“He was my counterpart when I was the director, the national intelligence officer,” she told GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, according to National Review. “When I had to do liaison meetings with the U.K., he was the person I had to meet with.”
She also confirmed the report that she had met with Steele during the 2016 election process.
“That was prior to the time that I had any knowledge about the dossier,” she said.
“He was constantly trying to drum up business, and he had contacted me because he wanted to see if I could give him a contact to some other individual, who actually I don’t even recall now, who he could approach about some business issues.”
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for him to have been hired to do this,” Hill said regarding Steele being contracted by opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
“I almost fell over when I discovered that he was doing this report.”
That’s because she had “misgivings and concern that [Steele] could have been played,” given that “the Russians would have an ax to grind against him given the job that he had previously.”
That’s certainly a fair assessment. So, why was she agreeing with some of the most controversial findings of the Steele dossier?
During one point in the hearing, according to The Washington Post, she said there was a “good chance” the Russians had compromising information on the president, telling Rep. Jordan that much of what the Kremlin collected on its opponents was “factual.”
When asked if the Russians had, as part of its “propaganda to go after people” targeted Trump, Hill said “I think that there’s a good chance that was the case,” adding that “compromising material was being collected on a whole range of individuals,” which would have included Hillary Clinton.
“You don’t think that in any way was accurate? You think it was this propaganda, this kompromat, this — that was contained in the now somewhat famous Steele dossier?” Jordan asked.
She said she was not “in a position to assess that” given that she was with the Brookings Institution at the time. However, she said it ought to be “looked at and investigated, the kind of information that was being collected.”
In case you’re not familiar with the nature of the kompromat, let’s just say the constraints of a family publication and good taste compel me to omit most of the preposterous and lascivious claims Jordan and Steele are talking about except to say they’re sexual in nature and involve a mattress you wouldn’t want to sleep on had any of these allegations actually occurred.
If you feel the need to go any further than this I urge you to proceed with caution, as I’ll merely say that those who aren’t familiar with the particulars of this tale can rest assured of ignorance is bliss.
Hill’s public testimony on Thursday contained no real substantive revelations on the Steele front other than she had been shown a copy of the dossier one day before it was released to the public by BuzzFeed. Given how widely the dossier had been circulating in Washington, this was hardly a surprise.
Fiona Hill’s relationship to the dossier and its creator seems to be slightly more complicated than is being reported in the media, particularly given the fact that she didn’t seem terribly interested in disavowing the dossier’s most salacious claim.
There almost certainly isn’t much more to this, yet what there is probably should get more scrutiny than it has. This isn’t a good look when the Democrats are looking for a witness with unimpeachable credibility and a lack of potential conflicts.
Perhaps, given how Washington (and life, for that matter) works, one doesn’t exist and we should stop looking for one.
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