The competing testimonies of Ambassador Gordon Sondland on Wednesday followed by former national security aide Dr. Fiona Hill on Thursday brought one unmistakable point into stark relief: All of Donald Trump’s top officials were “in the loop,” as Sondland put it, on Trump’s new Ukraine objectives. Meanwhile, everyone else was desperately scrambling to make sense of the whiplash departure from longstanding U.S. policy.
Dr. Hill, a Russia expert and ex-White House National Security Council member, illustrated exactly how that played out during a seminal moment Thursday when she explained a disagreement she’d had with Sondland, whom Trump had deputized to execute his Ukraine policy in coordination with Rudy Giuliani. Hill had gotten cross with Sondland for failing to keep the National Security Council informed of his negotiations with Ukrainian officials. Sondland responded that he had been keeping everyone abreast of his work, including Trump, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser John Bolton. “Who else do I have to deal with?” Sondland asked her. What Hill had wanted was for Sondland to be communicating within the bounds of what she called a “robust interagency process.” The problem was, that interagency process was full of people who were career diplomats, national security experts, budget wonks, and others—in other words, they were the public servants who spend their time trying to make government work for the people.
But after listening to Sondland’s testimony Thursday, Hill had an epiphany: He was communicating with Trump’s inner circle. He was keeping the top shelf Trump officials informed and he had a point, she realized.
“Because he was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged,” Hill testified Thursday, reflecting on her disagreement with Sondland. “So he was correct,” she concluded.
Viewing that revelation through Hill’s own personal process of enlightenment gave viewers a small window into what it must have been like across the board for lower tier officials who weren’t privy to what Trump’s inner circle understood. All the president’s men knew; everyone else was left to fumble around in the dark.
It’s just stunning for a conspiracy between Trump and all his top-level officials to be brought into such stark relief. Stunning.