House Democrats on Wednesday released the transcript of a closed-door interview of a key State Department witness who recounted to Congress his ‘clear understanding’ that military aid was withheld from Ukraine in exchange for a pledge by the country to investigate Democrats for President Donald Trump.
William Taylor told the investigators he understood that the security assistance, and not just a White House meeting for Ukraine’s new president, was conditioned on the country committing to investigations of Joe Biden and also Democrats’ actions in the 2016 election.
‘That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation,’ Taylor said.
Taylor said his understanding was based on a conversation with a National Security aide, Tim Morrison.
‘What I know for sure is what Mr. Morrison told me that he must have heard Ambassador Sondland tell Mr. Yermak,’ he said, referring to the U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Andrey Yermak, the chief negotiator for Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ambassador William Taylor was escorted by U.S. Capitol Police to his deposition on October 22; he said he had a ‘clear understanging,’ based on secondhand conversations, that the U.S. was withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to push the country toward a corruption investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said Tuesday in an addendum to his own testimony that he believed at the time that military aid to Ukraine would not be restored until Ukraine Presidnet Volodymyr Zelensky said publicly that he would pursue unspecified corruption investigations
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, continued his closed-door proceedings on Tuesday as his committee staff released transcripts from the previous round of depositions
Taylor said he understood the reason for investigating Burisma, a gas company linked to Joe Biden’s son, was ‘to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light’ and that it could help Trump’s reelection.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff asked Taylor in the questioning: ‘So if they don’t do this, they are not going to get that was your understanding?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Taylor said.
‘Are you aware that quid pro quo literally means this for that?’ Schiff asked.
‘I am,’ Taylor said.
He also detailed the involvement of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, who he referred to as the ‘originator’ of the demand for a public statement that Ukraine would investigate the Bidens.
Taylor, who said he had kept careful notes of what had happened, told how was told by Sondland that Trump had told him: ‘Talk to Rudy.’
As time wore on in July, he concluded that a proposed meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian president wasn’t ‘worth it’ given the asks being tied to it.
‘Yes, it would be fine to have the two Presidents talk, but if President Zelensky, in order to get that meeting were going to have to intervene in U.5. domestic policy or politics by investigated –by announcing an investigation that would benefit someone i n the United States, then i t’s not it wasn’t clear to me that that would be worth it,’ he said.
Taylor identified the president’s lawyer as the original proponent of the idea to probe any Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 elections and Burisma.
‘I think the origin of the idea to get President Zelensky to say out loud he’s going to investigate Burisma and 2016 election, I think the originator, the person who came up with that was Mr. Giuliani,’ he testified.
Asked whose interests Giuliani was representing, Taylor responded, ‘President Trump.’
Taylor told the impeachment probe that he was aware before the phonecall between the two presidents that a meeting between them was predicated on a public announcement of an investigation.
‘As the month of July went on and some of these suggest this, I was less convinced. I became less convinced that that meeting was worth what Giuliani was asking.
‘Yes, it would be fine to have the two Presidents talk, but if President Zelensky, in order to get that meeting were going to have to intervene in U.S. domestic policy or politics – by investigated – by announcing an investigation that would benefit someone in the United States, then it’s not it wasn’t clear to me that that would be worth it. That the meeting would be worth it.’
Taylor’s evidence of ‘an investigation that would benefit someone in the United States’ is likely to be seized on by Democrats when he testifies publicly.
He also agreed, however, with a Texas Republican congressman’s assertion that ‘no one in the Ukrainian government was aware’ the Trump administration had pressed the pause button on military aid money at the time of the call.
And, speaking of a now-famous July 25 call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinsky, Taylor testified that ‘it was not discussed.’
Another key passage reveals how it came to be that that Sondland pushed not to have anyone monitor that call as Zelinsky came on the line.
Taylor was asked what struck him as odd about that. House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff told him: ‘Ambassador Sondland made it clear not only that he didn’t wish to include most of the regular interagency participants but also that no one was transcribing or monitoring the call as they added President Zelensky. What struck you as odd about that?’
‘Same concern. That is, in the normal, regular channel, the State Department operations center that was putting the call together would stay on the line, in particular when you were having a conversation with the head of state, they would stay on the line, transcribe, take notes so that there could be a record of the discussion with this head of state,’ the longtime diplomat responded.
‘It is an official discussion. When he wanted to be sure that there was not, the State Department operations center agreed. And they told us, they said in response to his request, they said, we won’t monitor and will not and we certainly won’t transcribe because we’ re going to sign off,’ he said.
The release of Taylor’s transcript came as Democrats launched a major new phase of their impeachment inquiry with public hearings scheduled for next week featuring State Department officials who have testified about their concerns about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment investigation, said the committee would hear from Taylor, career department official George Kent and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in hearings next Wednesday and Friday.
All three have already testified behind closed doors in the first phase of the investigation. Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May at Trump’s direction, told investigators she had been told to ‘watch my back’ and that people were ‘looking to hurt’ her.
Both Kent and Taylor testified about their concerns about her dismissal as the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took a leading role on Ukraine policy.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. But despite those denials, Schiff said Wednesday that the witnesses will show that ‘the most important facts are largely not contested’ in the inquiry.
‘Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,’ Schiff said.
The Democrats are investigating Trump’s requests for Ukrainian actions as the U.S. withheld military aid from the country.
Trump, backed by Giuliani, asked new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July telephone call to probe Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and his family and also to investigate Ukraine’s possible role in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democrats are looking for connections between Yovanovitch’s dismissal, the holdup in military assistance for Ukraine and Trump’s push for the country to open investigations.
Democrats are accusing President Donald Trump of using military aid as blackmail to force Ukraine’s prosecutors to investigate Joe Biden, one of his potential 2020 challengers
Taylor also spoke about his role setting up a meeting between Zelensky and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who traveled to Kiev.
‘The senators could see that President Zelensky faced a dilemma,’ he said, ‘and the dilemma was investigate Burisma and 2016 or don’t. And if they investigated, then that would be seen to be interfering on the side of President Trump’s election: if they didn’t investigate, that would be seen to be interfering in favor of some of his – of President Trump’s opponent. So they told him: Just don’t get involved, just don’t get involved,’ Taylor said.
He spoke after a question by New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski about why he believed an investigation wouldn’t be merely ‘investigating corruption’ but ‘actually getting Zelensky drawn into U.S. politics?’
‘It was the cluster of issues surrounding Burisma that would be highlighted by an investigation,’ he said, noting that the case was closed at the time when Vice President Joe Biden was in Kiev.
The three committees that have been leading the investigation are wrapping up the closed-door testimony this week. Schiff stepped out of an interview with David Hale, the State Department’s third-ranking official, to announce the public hearings.
Democrats also started releasing transcripts from those interviews this week, part of the new public phase of the probe.
In transcripts released Monday and Tuesday, State Department officials detailed Yovanovitch’s ouster and Giuliani’s dealings with the department, White House and Ukraine.
Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, said in an addendum to his testimony released Tuesday that military assistance to the East European ally was being withheld until Ukraine’s new president agreed to release a statement about fighting corruption as Trump wanted.
Taylor described a May 23 meeting with Trump, Sondland, Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry where the president instructed them to go to Giuliani.
President Trump didn’t agree at that time on their pitch for a meeting with Zelensky, ‘but what he did say was work with Rudy Gjuliani, he told the three of them to work with Rudy Giuliani.’
Sondland also testified Trump told the men to work with Giuliani.
Taylor wasn’t initially disturbed by the direction to go to Giuiliani.
‘And what was your reaction to hearing that the President had directed the Ambassador to the European Union, the Special Envoy to the Ukraine conflict, and the Secretary of Energy to take a role in Ukraine policy and to speak to his personal lawyer?’ he was asked. ‘Actually, I wasn’t disturbed by that. It’s not unusual to ask people outside the government to play a role,’ he responded. But he said he view would later change.
By July 10, following a White House meeting where National Security Advisor John Bolton walked out after Sondland brought up investigations, Taylor had a better understanding of what was really at play with the demand.
‘I’m beginning to understand these investigations of Burisma and the 2016 elections the what the term investigations refer to,’ he said. He said he learned from Hill and another future impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, that Bolton concluded ‘this could lead to interference in U.S. political life and he wanted nothing of it.’