(William “Bill” Taylor arriving today on Capitol Hill for his testimony before Congress.)
Ambassador Bill Taylor appeared for a deposition before Congress today to discuss what he knew about Trump’s intentions with Ukraine and if there was in fact a quid pro quo involved in Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine. Because White House counsel Pat Cipollone had instructed all members of the State Department to ignore Congressional requests and not cooperate on Oct. 8, the House of Representatives subpoenaed Taylor this morning formally to ensure his participation.
Taylor testified before the relevant House committees and read a bombshell opening statement to the Committee where he described “two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.” (Read Taylors’ full statement here.) The irregular one was “well connected in Washington and operated mostly outside of official State Department channels” and consisted of Volker, Sondland, Perry and Giuliani. Taylor also gave a detailed description of several of Trump’s actions directly and through his advisors that in fact denotes that he withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a public statement by Zelensky that he would investigate Biden.
Taylor’s statement denoted that he delivered a letter to Zelensky upon his election in Ukraine on May 29 from Trump that expressed congratulations as well as promised a meeting between the two men. He further described the efforts undertaken by the “irregular channel,” led by Giuliani, to coerce Zelensky into launching an investigation into Burisma and alleged 2016 Ukrainian interference into the U.S. election in exchange for a meeting with Trump. Not only was a meeting contingent upon Zelensky making the public statement Trump wanted about an investigation, the Ukrainian aid would later hinge upon it as well.
Taylor testified that he had a phone call with Tim Morrison, Fiona Hill’s replacement as Trump’s top advisor on Russia, and in this call, Morrison told him about a conversation between Gordon Sondland and Andriy Yermak, a top advisor to Zelensky. Taylor revealed in his opening statement that "Sondland told Yermak that “the security assistance money for Ukraine would not come until Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation,” which is further evidence of a quid pro quo. In a later phone call, Sondland tried to walk back his quid pro quo statement but still specified that Trump wanted Zelensky to make a public statement about launching an investigation.
“But the push to make Zelensky publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani.” — Bill Taylor in his opening statement
Taylor confirmed Morrison’s account of what Sondland told him-that Trump was not asking for a “quid pro quo” but that Trump was insisting that “Zelensky go to microphone and say he is opening an investigation of Biden and 2016 election interference.” Trump was adamant that Zelensky “clear things up and do it in public” and if he did not things would be “at a stalemate.” Taylor said he understood “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not get its much needed financial assistance. Sondland confirmed with Taylor that Zelensky agreed to make a statement to that effect via CNN.
Taylor told the committee that he was neither present for nor privy to the details of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Zelensky, but he did have independent conversations with Tim Morrison, who confirmed his concerns. Toward the end of his statement, Taylor confirmed his distress over these culminating events and his attempts to make sure that no public statement was issued by Zelensky after the aid money was released to Ukraine. He specifically discussed that he was preparing to leave his post over the way things were handled and that he documented many of the steps as they occurred to the appropriate people, such as Secretary of State Pompeo. He also made a point to tell Ambassadors Sondland and Volker that he thought it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
We don’t have the details of Bill Taylor’s answers during the question portion of his testimony at this point, but his opening statement confirms that while Trump was expressly telling Sondland to reiterate that there was no quid pro quo involved in Ukraine getting its military aid, Trump was using the members of this “irregular channel” to ensure that Zelensky would agree to make a public statement committing to an investigation of his political rival, which he did. Taylors’ testimony is not so much shocking as is it is confirming. Rather than the smoking gun that proves the gun was fired, today’s deposition served as something much more definitive for Democrats — it’s like the bullet in the wall with a Trump monogram.
You can read more about the timeline and deadlines for the impeachment investigation here: Impeachment Testimony Cheat Sheet.
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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.