Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, gave testimony on Tuesday to House investigators involved in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
During that testimony, Taylor, who by his own accounts has dedicated 50 years of his life to serving the United States’ interests under both Democratic and Republican administrations, gave a damning account of the White House’s interactions with and demands of the Ukraine government — including an apparent effort to withhold desperately needed military funds for that nation in order to facilitate an investigation that could benefit Trump politically in the 2020 presidential election.
We encourage you to read the entire opening statement given by Taylor. But if you’re pressed for time, here’s some of the more troubling lines he gave regarding his time working in Ukraine over the past summer.
Taylor noted an irregular backchannel for making deals with Ukraine
In one of the opening paragraphs of Taylor’s testimony, he noted that he knew something peculiar was going on regarding Ukraine-U.S. relations in August and September of this year. Of note, Taylor said he was “concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons.”
Later on in his statement, Taylor said there were two separate “channels of U.S. policy-making…one regular and one highly irregular.”
The irregular channel “included then-Special Envoy [Kurt] Volker, Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, [Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy] Giuliani,” Taylor said.
Taylor added that the irregular channel “operated mostly outside of official State Department channels.”
Trump wasn’t enthused about meeting with Zelensky
Taylor became the acting ambassador to Ukraine in late spring. Upon his first trip to the country in this role, he brought with him letter signed by Trump, in which the president expressed a congratulatory message to newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, and invited him to meet in the White House soon. Ukrainian leaders were “eager” for such a meeting to occur, but in Taylor said, “from what I understood, President Trump did not share their enthusiasm for a meeting with Mr. Zelenskyy.”
European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to Taylor in a phone call on June 27 “that President Zelenskyy needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President Zelenskyy, was not standing in the way of ‘investigations,'” Taylor said.
A meeting with Zelensky would come with conditions from Trump
All signs pointed toward Trump creating conditions for Zelensky to meet with him, including opening up investigations into Burisma (the company that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had invested in) and “alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.”
“It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor noted in his testimony.
If you have not read this already, please take the time to read this remarkable testimony from Ambassador William Taylor. https://t.co/4900vjcsm9
— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) October 22, 2019
The directive to halt security assistance came from the top
A representative from the Office of Budget and Management said during a teleconference call with the NSC “that her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice,” Taylor said.
“I and others sat in astonishment — the Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support,” Taylor added in his statement.
According to Taylor, an OMB staff person explained “that the directive had come from the President to the Chief of Staff [Mick Mulvaney] to OMB.”
“In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened. The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy,” Taylor said.
Connecting Trump-Zelensky meeting with investigations infuriated then-NSC-head John Bolton
As noted in a previous article from HillReporter.com, Dr. Fiona Hill, an aide to former national security adviser John Bolton, testified to the House investigators that Bolton was “not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
Taylor’s testimony seems to corroborate Hill’s words.
Hill and another NSC aide told Taylor “that Ambassador Sondland had connected ‘investigations’ with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelenskyy, which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics.”
Some U.S. officials seemed to want Zelensky coached on what to say to Trump
On July 20, Taylor was informed that a phone call would take place between Zelensky and Trump, but that it was important for Ukraine president to mention he would help in investigations Trump wanted to see happen.
On same day, Sondland told Taylor “that he had recommended to President Zelensky that he use the phrase, ‘I will leave no stone unturned’ with regard to ‘investigations’ when [he] spoke with President Trump,” Taylor testified.
Zelensky didn’t want to be used “as a pawn” for U.S. elections
The Ukraine president seemed conscious of what his role was in all of this…including how the investigations would benefit Trump domestically.
Taylor mentioned that a message, conveyed from Ukraine officials as coming to him from Zelensky, made it clear that the Ukraine president “did not want to be used as a pawn in a U.S. re-election campaign.”
Trump wanted Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Barr
Eventually, a call between the leaders did happen on July 25. Taylor, as acting ambassador to Ukraine, found it odd, however, that he was not included in the call, nor given a readout of it after it happened.
In a call to Tim Morrison, who replaced Dr. Hill on the National Security Council, Taylor was later informed that the White House was not 100 percent happy with the call’s outcome. Trump also had wanted Zelensky to work directly with his personal lawyer and attorney general on the investigations.
“Mr. Morrison told me that the [July 25 call] ‘could have been better’ and that President Trump had suggested that President Zelensky or his staff meet with Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr,” Taylor testified.
Was there a change in policy? Taylor told, “it remains to be seen”
Taylor began getting concerned by August that there was a shift in U.S. policy, away from helping Ukraine fight against Russian encroachments. In an August 22 phone call with Tim Morrison, Taylor said:
“I asked him if there had been a change in policy of strong support for Ukraine, to which he responded, ‘it remains to be seen.’ He also told me during this call that the ‘President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.’ That was extremely troubling to me.”
Taylor personally concludes in August: promise of investigations linked to aid to Ukraine (not just promise of a meeting)
When the story leaked of security assistance being withheld in late August, Taylor said it didn’t occur to him “that the hold…could be related to the ‘investigations.'” His opinions “would soon change,” he said
Taylor later became aware that Sondland had told a Ukraine official that “the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisima investigation.” Taylor “was alarmed” by that revelation.
“This was the first time that I had heard the security assistance — not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations,” he testified.
Taylor divulges more about his now-famous text messages to Sondland (and the call that happened afterward)
At that time, Taylor sent his now-famous text message to Sondland, asking “if we [are] now saying that security assistance and [a] WH meeting are conditionedon investigations?” Sondland responded, asking Taylor to call him.
Taylor divulged the details of that call to investigators:
“During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor said.
Taylor told by Sondland: “everything” was dependent on Ukraine investigations — Trump wanted Zelensky ‘in a public box’
Sondland said to Taylor he was mistaken by telling officials in Ukraine earlier in the year that a meeting was the only thing dependent on those investigations.
“In fact, Ambassador Sonldand said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor noted. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
Trump wanted Zelensky to “go to a microphone” to announce investigations — but still insisted not a “quid pro quo”
Taylor learned on September 7 of a conversation between Sondland and Trump. Morrison told him about the details of that conversation.
“According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself,” Taylor explained.
Sondland insists it’s not a quid pro quo (but it sure sounds like one)
Taylor confronted EU Ambassador Sondland about the matter.
“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and [adviser Andriy] Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate.’ I understood ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.”
“It’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Taylor addressed another of his texts which have since become famous in the scandal.
In text message the following day, Taylor wrote, “with the [security money] hold, we have already shaken their [Ukraine’s] faith in us…I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland responded by writing Taylor was “incorrect” about Trump’s intent. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”