October 24, 2019
It was a shakedown, pure and simple. There were audible gasps in the room on October 22, when the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine told House impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump sought to withhold $400 million in critical military aid to Ukraine—and to refuse a White House meeting with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky—unless he pursued politically motivated investigations into Trump’s rivals.
The diplomat, William Taylor, painted a damaging portrait of events that directly tied Trump to a quid pro quo with Ukraine, according to his prepared remarks obtained by Politico and his responses to questions as described by sources in the room for the closed-door testimony.
Indeed, the 50-year veteran of government service “systematically dismantled Trump’s repeated denials that he sought to leverage American military and diplomatic might to coerce an ally into a coordinated campaign to damage his potential 2020 rival,” Politico reported.
Trump himself and his congressional allies did not attempt on Tuesday to dispute the substance of Taylor’s claims, which were based on copious notes. Instead, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham attacked Taylor personally, saying he was part of a band of “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”
In his opening statement, Taylor said Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told him that “everything” — including military assistance to Ukraine and a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian leader — was contingent on the Ukrainians publicly announcing investigations into Trump’s political opponents. He told impeachment investigators that a White House budget official said on a secure phone call in July that Trump had personally directed that the military aid be withheld.
“It is a rancorous story about whistle-blowers, Mr. Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption and interference in elections,” Taylor said according to Politico, referring to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was deeply involved in the shadow effort.
Taylor also testified that Sondland said Trump personally told him that he wanted Ukraine to “state publicly” that it would open such probes, before the U.S. would release the aid, which is viewed as critical for combating Russia’s aggression in the region.
“The body language of the people hearing it was, ‘holy s—’ — seriously,” Representative Harley Rouda (D-California), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told Politico in reference to Taylor’s opening statement.
Representative Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts), a senior member of the Oversight panel, characterized the testimony as a “sea change” that “could accelerate” the impeachment inquiry..
Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the president’s lead defender in the room, was tight-lipped as he emerged from the closed-door deposition for a lunch break. He praised what he described as GOP lawyers’ effective questioning of Taylor but declined to say whether it yielded exculpatory information.
Research contact: @politico