Which of these campaign posters would be better: “Fiona Hill for President” or simply “Fiona!”? Whichever, the Russian foreign affairs specialist has demonstrated that she has what it takes to unite our own badly divided country with her powerful combination of intellect, toughness and charm. Unfortunately, she was born and raised in the United Kingdom, so she doesn’t fulfill the constitutional requirement that the chief executive must be a natural born citizen.
A Brit who emigrated to the United States to seek opportunity, she found it in service to her adopted country. She explained: “I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement.” Her daddy was a miner, but she left that life behind and ended up getting a doctorate from Harvard. Her work ethic is apparent.
She has distinguished herself as an expert on Russia, sliding easily between the think tank world and government. She has served in administrations of both parties and was in the Trump White House as a National Security Council expert on Vladimir Putin’s Russia before leaving in July. In her case, it was not soon enough to avoid the impeachment maelstrom. So there she was, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry hearings, televised worldwide.
Other witnesses have soft-pedaled their testimony or couched their recollections in super-polite terms in order to not antagonize the snarling GOP members of the committee. Dr. Hill was not about to play that game. Her opening statement included a frontal assault on the subterfuge by Republicans that the real collusion in 2016 was from Ukrainians trying to elect Hillary Clinton, not Vladimir Putin on behalf of candidate Trump: “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.”
That left Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the committee and chief Trump mouthpiece, to sputter, “It is entirely possible for two separate nations to engage in election meddling at the same time.” In a short while, the grumpy Republican committee members (pardon the redundancy) decided that it was in their interest to not take on Hill, and instead to just make crabby statements.
GOP Congressman Brad Wenstrup, elected in 2013 in Ohio, is also Dr. Wenstrup, a podiatrist and an Army Reserve officer who has served in Iraq. He also attended to Minority Leader Steve Scalise when Scalise was shot by a domestic terrorist during practice for a congressional baseball game. Wenstrup accused the Democrats of being driven by hate: “I know that hatred blinds people. I’ve been in war, and I’ve studied war, and coups create division. And it’s time for this phase of the publicly announced and proclaimed Democrat coup to end.”
In response, Hill turned on the charm: “I think that what Dr. Wenstrup said was very powerful, about the importance of overcoming hatred and certainly partisan division … So I just want to thank you for making what I think was also a very elegant and eloquent and heartfelt defense.” Happily the networks were on a split-screen shot. We could see then that the flabbergasted Wenstrup mouthed the words “Thank you.”
It was a remarkable display of someone, Fiona Hill, finding common ground – exactly what it will take for America to recover once Donald Trump leaves office, however he departs.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.