Great Britain

Donald Trump impeachment hearings: Durham miner's daughter in spotlight

A FORMER White House analyst on Russia, who was born in Bishop Auckland, has denounced as “fictional” the contention from some Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election.

Dr Fiona Hill, who was giving evidence to impeachment investigators yesterday, was an aide to national security adviser John Bolton but she stressed she is “non-partisan” and has worked under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Dr Hill's accent has little trace of her North-East origins, but at the start of her testimony today the 54-year-old shared her County Durham roots.

Born in Bishop Auckland in October 1965, she is the daughter of a coalminer and a midwife.

Dad Alfred followed the men of his family down the pits, aged 14, and when the last collieries closed in the 1960s he wanted to emigrate to America to work in the coal mines in West Virginia or Pennsylvania but stayed to be with his mother, who had been crippled from hard labour. He died in the North-East in 2012 and Ms Hill's mother still lives in her hometown.

As a young woman, she spent time in France and Germany and showed an aptitude for languages and became fluent in Russian.

She went to St Andrew’s University, in Scotland, and in 1987 won a place on an academic exchange to the Soviet Union. She later studied at Harvard University, where she met her husband, and became a US citizen in 2002.

Apart from a brief spell working for Durham County Council, most of her career has been based in the States. She served as an intelligence officer under Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama before a long spell at the Brookings Institution think tank. She is a critical biographer of Vladimir Putin and a world expert on Russia and Europe. She was on President Trump's National Security Council staff from April 2017 until she resigned this summer.

In her opening remarks to the House Intelligence Committee today, she also urged politicians not to “promote politically-driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests”. She added: “I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth.”

She said the conclusion by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the election “is beyond dispute”.

But she said the assertion by some Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the election “is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves”.

She added: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimise an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016.”

Some Republicans have advanced the Ukraine election interference talking point as they seek to defend President Donald Trump from allegations that he pressed Ukraine’s leader to investigate Democrats and rival Joe Biden.

They, and Mr Trump himself, have said he was trying to root out corruption in the country.

Ms Hill said US support for Ukraine, “which continues to face armed Russian aggression, has been politicised”.

She was one of two key witnesses House impeachment investigators heard from in person yesterday, capping an intense week in the historic inquiry.

Both Ms Hill and David Holmes, a political counsellor at the US Embassy in Kiev, grew alarmed by how Mr Trump and others in his orbit were conducting foreign policy in Ukraine.

Mr Holmes says he was having lunch with US Ambassador Gordon Sondland this summer when he overheard Mr Trump on the phone asking the envoy about the investigations he wanted from the Ukraine president.

The colourful exchange was like nothing he had ever seen, Mr Holmes said in an earlier closed-door deposition.

Ms Hill has said Mr Bolton cut short a meeting with visiting Ukrainians at the White House when Mr Sondland started asking them about “investigations”.

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