Who is Fiona Hill and why did Joe Biden give her such a glowing book blurb in 2012?
Up until now, I'd had a healthy respect for the books and academic work of Fiona Hill, the now-former White House Russia expert who testified in a closed-door hearing about her knowledge of Russia, Ukraine and Trump, apparently pretty negatively. I've read "Mr. Putin," her most important book, and while I didn't particularly agree with the sour picture she painted of Russia and President Vladimir Putin, she was pretty solid in her scholarship even if her assessments were exclusively negative. Now, it looks like she might just have a soft spot for Joe Biden, who wrote one of three blurbs for her 2012 book called "Mr. Putin," co-written with Clifford G. Gaddy.
Here's a picture from my copy of the book with my circled notations:
and here it is close up:
Photos by Monica Showalter
What leaps out is the contrived nature of that blurb. Authors often get prominent people to do their blurbs to ensure sales, and it's pretty reasonable to see someone from the Financial Times and U.K.'s MI-6 chief doing such blurbs, given that Hill is a British native and those are foreign-policy oriented entities. But Biden? Who's not exactly an academic, and stranger still, who was making the pitch in the pages of Rolling Stone, a real hotbed of Kremlinology readership? Strange indeed. Stranger still, Biden's effusive praise for the book, with its many blasts at corruption and dour picture of the Russians, stands at weird odds to Biden's own record of crony deals with Putin-friendly oligarchs, via his son, in Ukraine. Not only would Biden have been unlikely to have plodded through such a heavy piece of lumber as Hill's book, he'd probably not like what was exposed in the content either, given that he himself was at the Russia/Ukraine hog wallow himself.
The two references to him inside the book are vaguely neutral to positive, making him appear to be a skeptical statesman.
Why was he praising this book and why was his praised featured on a blurb to encourage the sales of Hill's book?
It not only suggests some kind of tie between Hill and Biden (and I sure as heck wasn't looking for it when I pulled the book off the shelf), it also points to Hill's history of left-leaning associations.
Hill is an academic, and for reasons that are unclear, got appointed to the Trump administration in a position as the chief Russia officer at the National Security Council in March 2017, apparently brought in, depending on which reports you read, by then-NSC Advisor Michael Flynn or former NSC Advisor H.R. McMaster. Maybe both. Her LinkedIn page doesn't mention that powerful position she held either because she left bitterly or because having worked for Trump might not go over well at the Harvard or Brookings faculty lounge.
And in the two and a half years she spent with the Trump administration, her hand was pretty clear - she hated the Russians, same as you'd find in her anti-Russia books. So long as Hill was around, in U.S. policymaking, there was never a benign or understandable reading of Russian motives to explain some action when an evil one would do. As a result, there were no better relations with Russia for either Trump or the states. Russia in fact got sanctioned like it's never been sanctioned, saw its diplomats and reporters kicked out and its property expropriated on her watch. The Kremlin pretty well wrote off its early high hopes for better relations with the states with Hill as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump's National Security Council staff.
O.K., fine. She was who she was, she disguised nothing, and nobody could be surprised relations turned out the way they did. Maybe she was wanted because she was so negative, to counter the then-Democrat narrative about Trump being in bed with the Russians. Arguably, some punishment was indeed the right response to Russia's acts, such as here and here.
But it still isn't all that clear why she was on the NSC staff, why she would have wanted that position or why Trump would have allowed her on. He'd kept NeverTrumps, such as Elliott Abrams out, based on Abrams signing a negative #NeverTrump petititon before the 2016 election, although he was eventually let on in an important position at State later. When I looked up Hill's record when she was appointed, I found no obnoxious anti-Trump political statements. She wrote this for Vox, describing why the Russians would want to hack the Democratic National Committee - notice she's not spewing lies or anything, but her piece for a lefty publication was an implicit argument against Trump. So, she was still noticibly left wing.
She had served in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations in similar policy positions earlier. She had been affiliated with the center-left Brookings Institution, which is no Republican redoubt. She came from a leftwing part of northern England. She spent her entire academic time in the states in the faculty lounges of woke Harvard University. She also had an affiliation with Soros front group, the Eurasia Foundation, and Soros is very much at odds with Russia over precisely his NGO activity. So, it's likely she never interacted with a conservative in her entire life.
But someone, apparently one of the managerial generals of the Trump era, decided ideology didn't matter. Hill was bright, she hated the Russians like he did, and he brought her onboard. Trump, in this lefty report, wouldn't allow her in in his meetings with Putin out of fear she would leak. She came on in April 2017 and apparently left in July 2019, depending on the report, before President Trump's Ukraine call was made. Here's a report that claims she even got McMaster fired. I am not convinced that that report is even true, because why would a meeting with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be a firing offense? Rice is a Russia expert and Trump has had only warm words for her. But I get a funny feeling when I read all the leaks that have come out about her supposedly secret Schiff committee testimony which focuses primarily on all the things NSC chief John Bolton told her. If true, these things are embarrassing to him, which means a political cost to him, not to her.
How'd she get in with Trump? And what about those apparent ties with Biden, which might call into question her motives for all her negative testimony on Trump? Was her real reason for saying negative things and embarrassing other Republicans a desire to get a fancy job with a future President Biden? Something like that would make fair grounds for some questions were these hearings held in an open setting and not the star chamber plus cherrypicked leak conditions of the Schiff hearings. Would that account for her sourness on Trump, her exit from the Trump administration just as this whistleblower stuff was brewing, and her willingness to embarrass the entire Trump administration behind closed doors?
If she has any ties to Biden, maybe this whistleblower stuff was about something other than improper phone calls from President Trump to the President of Ukraine. Hill needs to be answering some questions about just how close she herself was to Biden.