Fiona Hill, formerly President Trump’s top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, testified that British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier was a “rabbit hole” that “very likely” contained Russian disinformation and that Steele “could have been played” by the Russians.
Hill’s closed-door congressional testimony during Ukraine whistleblower impeachment proceedings from Oct. 14, 2019, was released on Friday, and the 448 pages show that she was upset by much of what she’d seen this year, including efforts by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and what she saw as conspiracy theories being peddled within the Trump administration, such as those related to CrowdStrike and alleged Ukrainian election interference in 2016.
“I’m really worried about these conspiracy theories, and I’m worried that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020,” Hill said. She added that “the Russians thrive on misinformation and disinformation.”
But Hill also told congressional investigators she was shocked to learn about Steele’s role in the 2016 election and was concerned that the Kremlin inserted falsehoods into the salacious and unverified dossier used by the DOJ and the FBI in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to target Trump campaign associate Carter Page. She told Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio she believed Steele’s dossier was “a rabbit hole,” too.
Hill stated that “the way the Russians operate is that they will use whatever conduit they can to put out information that is both real and credible but that also masks a great deal of disinformation” and that “it’s very likely that the Russians planted disinformation in and among other information that may have been truthful.”
Hill said it was important to note that the alleged Russian disinformation in Steele’s dossier was meant to harm Trump.
“And also the point that actually hasn’t come out, and, again why I’ve been very cross in the media, is that the President was attacked as well, because the Russians sought to discredit him,” she testified, adding that “what the Russians do, again, is they get information that’s not just plausible but often is factual … and then they will sprinkle into that disinformation.”
Attorney General William Barr told the Senate in May that he was “concerned about” possible Russian disinformation in Steele’s dossier, and former CIA Moscow station chief Daniel Hoffman told the Washington Examiner that the Steele dossier was “likely FSB [the successor agency to the KGB] disinformation.”
Hill believed that the Russians targeted Hillary Clinton as well, likely referring to Russian military intelligence hacking Democratic emails and providing them to WikiLeaks.
“Whoever was elected President, they wanted to weaken them,” Hill said. “So, if Secretary Clinton had won, there would have been a cloud over her at this time if she was President Clinton. There’s been a cloud over President Trump since the beginning of his Presidency, and I think that’s exactly what the Russians intended.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, questioned Hill on whether she was aware of any Ukrainian involvement with Steele’s dossier, and she said she had no knowledge about Steele’s sources but was concerned the Russians used the former MI6 officer to spread fake dirt.
“I expressed the misgivings and concern that he could have been played,” Hill said. “Because if you also think about it, the Russians would have an axe to grind against him given the job that he had previously. And if he started going back through his old contacts and asking about that, that would be a perfect opportunity for people to feed some kind of misinformation.”
Zeldin also asked Hill whether it was appropriate for a “foreign spy” such as Steele “to be collecting information from foreign governments to gain an advantage against the Trump campaign.”
“Well, he’s a former foreign spy. But, nonetheless, a foreign national,” she testified. “I don’t believe it’s appropriate for him to have been hired to do this. And, again, I think I already expressed my shock and surprise when I learned that he had been involved in this.”
Hill reminded the committee that “Putin was a case officer in the KGB,” and spreading disinformation to someone like Steele is “exactly what a case officer does.”
“They get a weakness and they blackmail their assets,” she said. “And Putin will target world leaders and other officials like this.”
The opposition research firm Fusion GPS was hired by Clinton’s campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm, and Fusion GPS then hired Steele, who allegedly reached out to Russian sources to put together his dossier. Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook said they received briefings about Fusion GPS’s findings during 2016. Steele’s Democratic funding, his strong desire for Trump to lose, and possible flaws with his dossier were not revealed to the FISA Court.
The conclusions of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s two-year investigation into alleged FISA abuse are expected within weeks.