Trump Taps Putin Critic for Senior White House Position

(Foreign Policy) —

The Trump administration has offered a well-respected scholar and sober critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, a White House official told Foreign Policy.

The decision to hire Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, for one of the government’s top jobs dealing with U.S.-Russia relations is likely to earn bipartisan praise in Congress where Republicans and Democrats have expressed mounting unease with the Trump administration’s apparent contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. The House Intelligence Committee laid out parameters on Wednesday for an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible contacts with Russian officials.

Hill, a dual U.S.-UK citizen and former U.S. intelligence officer from 2006 to 2009, has written critically of Putin’s autocratic tendencies and desire of a “weakened U.S. presidency.”

“Blackmail and intimidation are part of his stock in trade,” she wrote in a column last summer explaining Putin’s interest in interfering in America’s presidential elections.

In her 2013 biography of Putin, she warned policymakers not to underestimate the Russian strongman given his strategic cunning and ability to find weaknesses in opponents derived from his experience in the KGB.

Since President Donald Trump’s election in November, she has dismissed the possibility of a dramatic rapprochement with Russia given the inherent differences between Washington and Moscow. “The Russians will get all giddy with expectations, and then they’ll be dashed, like, five minutes into the relationship because the U.S. and Russia just have a very hard time … being on the same page,” she told The Atlantic in November.

Hill was offered the position by National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg prior to the ouster of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. She hasn’t yet filled the position and is still going through procedural steps such as background and security checks, according to the White House official. Hill is “in the process to take over the Europe and Russia position,” said the official.

Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A GOP Senate aide told Foreign Policy that Hill’s appointment would come as a relief to Republicans wary of Flynn’s ties to Russia and eager for a shrewd Kremlin analyst in the White House.

The decision comes amid mounting calls in Congress for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Moscow’s alleged role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election in order to boost Trump’s candidacy. Those calls were expected to increase following a report on Wednesday that then-Sen. Jeff Sessions spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before becoming Trump’s attorney general. Sessions swore to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he hadn’t met any Russian officials. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has called on him to resign.

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