William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, leaves Capitol Hill after his testimony to House investigators, October 22, 2019 (Erin Schaff/New York Times)
A transcript of the testimony of the top US diplomat in Ukraine confirms the 10-month campaign by Donald Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani for Kiev’s investigations of Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.
William Taylor, who became US chargé d’affaires after Trump recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May, also confirmed the “quid pro quo”: Trump’s suspension of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until President Volodymyr Zelenksiy announced the investigations to tarnish Biden and to cover up Russia’s involvement in the 2016 US election.
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor said.
House Democrats released the transcript, the fifth from current and former US officials, on Wednesday. They said Taylor will be the first witness next week in public impeachment hearings on Trump’s alleged abuses of power.
George Kent, the State Department official overseeing policy in Eastern Europe, will also appear on Wednesday. Two days later Yovanovitch will testify.
Earlier this week, Yovanovitch’s testimony detailed the disinformation and pressure by Giuliani, who saw her as a barrier to his campaign, to discredit her and force her removal. She said that she felt threatened by Trump after he said, in a July 25 call with Zelenskiy, that she would “go through some things”.
The call sparked a formal complaint, by the CIA official liaising with the White House on Ukraine, which led to the hearings and then the impeachment inquiry.
Transcripts from former State Department official Michael McKinley and former US envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker also detailed the pressure on Yovanovitch and the Trump-Giuliani campaign. On Tuesday, Ambassador Gordon Sondland — a Trump political appointee — revised his testimony to confirm the quid pro quo of military aid for investigations.
Pressure Grows Over Trump-Giuliani “Irregular Channel”
Taylor set out the Trump-Giuliani “irregular channel”, established from November 2018 by the attorney in meetings with former and current Ukrainian officials. In particular, Giuliani tried to use former Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin — dismissed in March 2016 for failing to investigate corruption — and his successor Yuriy Lutsenko to target Joe Biden and his son Hunter, a board member of Ukraine’s largest private gas company Burisma.
Trump and Giuliani also sought a declaration that Ukraine, not Russia, was the host of the server that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
“The origin of the idea to get President Zelenskiy 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,” the chargé d’affaires said.
A “senior administration official” said the White House will add two officials — Pam Bondi, the former Florida Attorney General, and Tony Sayegh, a former aide to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — to fight the inquiry through public responses.
House Republicans, far more vocal than Senate colleagues in echoing Trump’s attacks and rejecting the testimony, said they may change their membership on the House Intelligence Committee. Jim Jordan, one of the most vocal representatives in his castigation of the inquiry, is reportedly replacing one of the current GOP members.
Meahwhile, the White House continued its attempt to stonewall further testimony. David Hale, the third-ranking official at the State Department, defied the pressure to appear on Wednesday but there were no-shows by Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor; and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney are expected to refuse committee requests to appear Thursday and Friday.
However, a lawyer for Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, said she may testify as scheduled on Thursday.
Williams was one of two Pence advisors who listened to the Trump-Zelenskiy call.
Indicating their confidence in the strength of evidence collected so far, House Democrats said they will not pursue a lawsuit seeking the testimony of Charles Kupperman, a deputy to Bolton.
Kupperman had asked a judge to rule on whether he must comply with a subpoena. Democrats now say that they hope he will appear if a ruling in a parallel case, involving former White House counsel Don McGahn, directs compliance with a subpoena. However, they believe Kupperman’s non-appearance — as well as that of other witnesses ordered by the White House to defy subpoenas — will bolster an obstruction of justice charge against Trump.