Another day brings another transcript of testimony that eviscerates the Trump Administration’s claim that there was no quid pro quo involving foreign aid for Ukraine. The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees released the transcript of Ambassador William Taylor, Chargé d’Affaires Ad Interim For U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine this afternoon, which filled in details from Taylor’s opening statement, which was released previously.
In a statement accompanying the transcripts, the chairs of the three committees said, “The testimony of Ambassador Taylor—a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and nonpartisan diplomat—shows how President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and conditioned its release, as well as a vital White House meeting, on the President of Ukraine publicly announcing investigations into debunked conspiracy theories involving the Bidens and the 2016 election.”
The link to the complete testimony can be found here while another link containing select excerpts of the testimony is here.
Among the revelations from Taylor’s testimony, Ambassador Taylor said that there was an official diplomatic channel to Ukraine that included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Rudy Giuliani as well as Taylor himself. The “irregular” policy channel eventually began to diverge from official US policy toward Ukraine.
This became obvious to Taylor on July 18 when, on a conference call, he heard “a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of this otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call, the person who was off-screen, said that she was from OMB and her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.”
Taylor and the other participants in the call were astonished. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. support,” he explained.
The origin of the order was said by the OMB staffer to come from President Trump. In Taylor’s words, “All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the President to the Chief of Staff to OMB.”
“In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened,” Taylor added. “The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy,” policy that was approved by Congress. That longstanding aid included “weapons, it was training, it was the communications equipment, it was sustainables… [that] allowed Ukrainian soldiers to actually defend themselves.” The aid had been given under both the Obama and Trump Administrations.
Taylor also discussed the text message exchange with Gordon Sondland regarding the delayed aid in which Sondland asked Taylor to call him.
“During that phone call,” Taylor related, “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. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a box by making public statement [sic] about ordering such investigations. In that same September 1st call, I told Ambassador Sondland that President Trump should have more respect for another head of state and that what he described was not in the interest of either President Trump or President Zelensky. At that point, I asked Ambassador Sondland to push back on President Trump’s demand. Ambassador Sondland pledged to try.”
The testimony undercuts Republican claims that there could be no quid pro quo because the Ukrainians were not aware of the hold on the aid by hinting at a prior conversation between Sondland and the Ukrainians that linked “everything” to Zelensky’s public announcement of investigations. The Ukrainians may have been aware of Trump’s demands as early as June 28 when the president held a phone call with Zelensky that cut out the regular diplomatic chain-of-command. This phone call was not monitored or transcribed outside of Trump and the irregulars.
President Trump continued to insist on Ukrainian action before he would release the aid. Taylor describes a conversation with Sondland in which he was told, “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” Taylor says that both Sondland and Volker used the term “signing the check” in conjunction with discussions about releasing the aid.
And because it always comes back to the Russians, Taylor described why the delay in aid and the pressure on Zelensky was detrimental to national security, telling the committee, “The Russians [are] loving it. The Russians are paying attention. The Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians.”
“The Russians want to know how much support the Ukrainians are going to get in general, but also what kind of support from the Americans,” Taylor continued. “So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit.”
Ambassador Taylor’s testimony should be devastating to Donald Trump and his defenders. Not only does Taylor link the president directly to a quid pro quo that tied Ukrainian military aid and White House access to investigating a political opponent, he also undercuts claims that the Ukrainians did not know about the delay in aid until much later. The dishonesty of the White House claims about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky are troubling but totally expected but Taylor’s testimony, which has been corroborated by other witnesses, goes further. The ambassador paints a picture of a president who does not listen to advisors and who is willing to stab allies in the back for a momentary political gain, even as the lives of their soldiers are on the line.