Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council official who testified at the impeachment hearings on Thursday, was born in Bishop Auckland, a hardscrabble former coal town in County Durham, in the northeast of England. Her father was a miner; her mother was a nurse. As she noted in her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, her modest roots and working-class accent would have been a career handicap in the Britain she grew up in, but in the late nineteen-eighties she escaped. After attending the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, she applied for a graduate scholarship to Harvard and was called for an interview. “I was so nervous, I walked into a broom closet by accident,” she later recalled.
Hill, who appeared at the Longworth House Office Building, on Thursday morning, didn’t appear to be nervous at all, and why should she have been? At Harvard, she earned a Ph.D. in Russian history. In 2002, she became an American citizen. For many years, she has been a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington. From 2006 to 2009, she served as the senior expert on Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council, an internal think tank for U.S. intelligence agencies. In 2013, she and Clifford G. Gaddy, an economist at Brookings, published “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” which a reviewer at Foreign Affairs described as the single book about Putin that is most useful to policymakers. In 2017, Hill was named the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, where she served as a deputy to H. R. McMaster and John Bolton.
“I can say with confidence that this country has offered for me opportunities I would never have had in England,” Hill said in recounting her modest upbringing. Then she got down to business, delivering a short lecture to certain unnamed members of the committee about the realities of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
Hill was just getting started. Reading in a firm voice from her opening statement, she went on to say that Russia’s goal was to weaken the United States, partly by sowing internal dissent. “President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super pac,” she said. “They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.” Hill also repeated the warning that Robert Mueller delivered during his testimony to Congress, in July, and she coupled that warning with another about the useful idiots inside the United States who, deliberately or not, serve to further Russia’s goals. “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election,” she said. “We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
It isn’t every day that a former senior official in the Trump White House effectively accuses congressional Republicans of promoting “false narratives” in a manner that benefits the Kremlin. Even before Hill started talking, Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, had sought to counter her assertions. During his opening statement, he lifted up a lengthy report into Russian meddling that he and his Republicans colleagues put out in 2018. Remarkably, however, Nunes then confirmed Hill’s charge by saying it was “entirely possible for two separate nations”—e.g., Russia and Ukraine—“to engage in election meddling at the same time, and Republicans believe we should take meddling seriously by all foreign countries.”