'Do it in public': Here are 7 explosive details from Bill Taylor's impeachment inquiry testimony
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified to the House of Representatives as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Tuesday, and a release of his prepared remarks showed that he has blown the case against the president wide open.
While most of the damning evidence of Trump's wrongdoing has been public for nearly a month now, Taylor's account provides revealing details and confirms the most damaging inferences a reasonable observer would have had about the Ukraine scandal.
Here are seven key details in his remarks:
1. There was no explanation for Trump's delay of military aid to Ukraine. The Defense Department affirmed the need for the aid.
Taylor testified that, as was publicly known, Trump delayed congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine on July 18. But Taylor revealed that no explanation was given for this delay at the time — even to Taylor himself, who was serving as the acting ambassador to this country, which deeply disturbed him.
He even noted this: "At one point, the Defense Department was asked to perform an analysis of the effectiveness of the assistance. Within a day, the Defense Department came back with the determination that the assistance was effective and should be resumed."
These facts continue to undercut the already deeply implausible claims from Trump and his defenders that the president had legitimate reasons to delay the aid.
2. Taylor had long-running concerns about Rudy Giuliani's backchanneling of a secondary Ukraine policy.
He said that even before he joined the administration following a May 28 meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudolph Giuliani, who had made several high-profile statements about Ukraine and U.S. policy toward the country."
As he discovered Giuliani's deep involvement in diplomacy with the country, he only became more alarmed.
3. Ukrainians were troubled by the lack of aid, and there were lives on the line while Trump held up the assistance.
While much of the discussion of the Ukraine scandal focuses on the important stakes it has for U.S politics, Taylor's testimony helpfully focused on the costs Trump's machinations had on the beleaguered American ally.
In defending Trump in the Ukraine scandal, many have claimed that the president's delay of military aid was not linked to the investigations the president wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to carry out. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney undercut this argument last week by saying that the investigation of the 2016 election was directly tied to the holdup in military aid, though he tried to claim later that he didn't say what he said. Some have pointed out that, in Trump's famous call with Zelensky on July 25 — in which the U.S. president explicitly asked for the investigation of 2016 and of Joe Biden — he didn't explicitly mention the military aid delay, and Ukrainians weren't aware of the aid at the time.
But Taylor's testimony makes clear that, eventually, the Ukrainians were aware of the delayed aid as Trump's demands for investigations continued. On Aug. 29, Taylor was contacted by Andriy Yermak, a Ukrainian official, about the delayed aid, and the ambassador said he was "embarrassed" that he couldn't explain the hold. He said Yermak was "very concerned."
Taylor also made clear that the security assistance was a matter of life and death of the Ukrainians.
"Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance," he said.
4. After it was public that the military aid to Ukraine was delayed, Trump kept pushing for the investigations of his political opponents.
At several subsequent points, Trump and his officials make clear to the Ukrainians that they still want the investigations. These overtures come from Vice President Mike Pence, who was asked about the aid directly by Zelensky and responded by saying "he wanted the Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption," Taylor explained. This was coded language Trump has used to discuss the investigations.
Taylor also said: "Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation." (Burisma is the oil company where Hunter Biden served on the board; Trump has repeatedly claimed that Vice President Joe Biden's work in Ukraine is therefore corrupt and should be criminally investigated.) Taylor added: "This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance—not just the White House meeting—was conditioned on the investigations."
5. Trump claimed he wasn't asking for a quid pro quo — but he demanded Ukraine do what he wanted in order to receive the aid.
Taylor's testimony makes clear that, even while Trump repeatedly insisted that he wasn't demanding a quid pro quo from the Ukrainians, his actions revealed that it was exactly what he was asking for. Discussing Trump's demands of Zelensky, Taylor recounted:
[Ambassador Sondland] said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to "clear things up and do it in public." President Trump said it was not a "quid pro quo." Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy 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."
Some will surely continue to argue that Trump's denial of a quid pro quo is exculpatory. But in fact, it's the opposite. Because Trump's actions clearly demonstrate that he's seeking to arrange a quid pro quo, the fact that he is at the same time denying this obvious reality indicates that he was aware that what he is doing is wrong and was trying to cover it up.
6. Sondland's defense of Trump is damning.
Ambassador Sondalnd tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta Europena Strategy Conference. I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not "owe" President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for political gain was "crazy," as I said in my text message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.
This explanation of Trump's actions actually sounds very plausible — and it confirms he was corruptly acting for his own ends, not for the national interest.
7. Taylor said that the investigations explicitly included the ask for dirt on Biden, including, potentially, in a CNN interview.
Taylor confirms, as has long been denied but has been obvious, that Trump's pressure on Ukraine tied in directly to his ask for an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent. He said he did not hear the July 25 phone call in which Trump explicitly mentioned the Bidens to Zelensky, but he said, "I had come to understand ... that 'investigations' was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondalnd used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens."
He also revealed, for the first time, that Zelensky apparently had plans to give an interview to CNN announcing the investigations after meeting with Sondland. This would amount to a de facto campaign ad for the Trump 2020 re-elect. That interview never happened, and the aid was eventually released as it came under increasing scrutiny.