Testimony of Envoy to Ukraine Released by House Democrats

Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees on Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday released the full transcript of testimony a top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine gave in which he said he understood a $400 million military aid package hinged on Ukraine announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, his son and the 2016 presidential election.

The senior Ukraine ambassador, William Taylor, provided some of the most critical testimony to date in the inquiry led by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees when he went in for a closed-door hearing on Oct. 22.

At the time, Taylor’s opening remarks and the reports of his testimony trickling out of the closed hearing painted a picture of a pressure campaign on Ukraine facilitated by the involvement of the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

According to the transcript of Taylor’s testimony released Wednesday, he repeatedly expressed concerns that Giuliani played an outsized role in U.S.-Ukraine foreign policy and was actively gunning for the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden, Trump’s potential opponent in the 2020 election, as well as Biden’s son Hunter and Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy firm where the younger Biden sat on the board.

During his deposition, Taylor told House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff about a conversation he had with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in which Sondland lamented “a mistake” he made when telling Ukrainian officials that a White House meeting for Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky was dependent upon a public announcement of investigations into the Bidens and Burisma.

“In fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor testified.

The transcript shows Schiff seized on the statement and asked Taylor to clarify.

“Meaning that he had understated the matter before? Am I right?” Schiff asked, referring to Sondland’s comments.

Indeed, Sondland realized it was a mistake to condition it only on the meeting, Taylor told the committee.

Schiff continued, “The military assistance was also going to be conditioned on the commitment by Ukraine to do these two political investigations?”

“Yes,” Taylor replied.

The willingness to put Ukraine’s military assistance on the line in exchange for political favors so unsettled Taylor that he told investigators he was prepared to quit his post in September if it seemed that Ukraine would not have its funding by October.

Taylor made his feelings clear to officials: he refused to defend actions and policy towards Ukraine pushed by Giuliani.

“I would say bad things about it. And you wouldn’t want me out there doing that. So I’m going to come home on that,” Taylor told lawmakers after recalling a text message he sent to Sondland where he threatened to quit if a “nightmare” scenario for Ukraine came to pass.

That scenario was the Ukrainians acquiescing to the Trump administration’s request that Zelensky announce the launch of investigations into the Bidens and Burisma, and Zelensky subsequently getting himself “in big trouble” both in the United States and in his home country with the military aid ultimately being withheld altogether.

The move also would have weakened Ukraine’s posture in the eyes of its neighbor and frequent aggressor Russia, Taylor said.

“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 said. “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.”

According to the transcript, Taylor also shared insight related to Sondland’s discussions with Ukrainian officials about getting Zelensky to make the investigation announcement public by the end of September.

Taylor testified that Sondland first had the conversation with Zelensky’s aides about the announcement just ahead of the Yalta European Strategy conference in Ukraine. The Yalta conference, which centers around the future of Ukraine and hosts world leaders from Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia, was scheduled for the first week of September.

But when the announcement failed to materialize at the conference, things got more serious as the United Nations General Assembly rapidly approached on Sept. 25.

It soon became clear the U.S. wanted Zelensky to be interviewed on television, Taylor said.

“Then I started hearing about the CNN interview and so it was going to take place in New York,” the senior ambassador recalled.

Getting Zelensky to announce the investigation explicitly was a power move for Trump.  It would put Zelensky “in a box,” Taylor testified.

“By that do you mean, Ambassador, that President Trump wanted Zelensky to have to make a public commitment, to get into a public box – that is, commit publicly to these two investigations – before he was going to get either the meeting or the assistance?” Schiff asked, referring to a potential visit by Zelensky to the Oval Office.

“That’s what Ambassador Sondland told me,” Taylor said.

Schiff continued to prod Taylor for details.

“So it wasn’t even enough that they make a private commitment; Ambassador Sondland was saying that Ukraine and President Zelensky needed to make a public statement for the president,” the chairman.

Taylor replied with a single word.

“Yes,” he told the committee.

Taylor is slated to give public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13 and it is certain that lawmakers will finely parse the definition of “quid pro quo” during question and answer sessions. But the George W. Bush-appointed ambassador to Ukraine also raised other interesting issues with his closed-door testimony that are just as likely to come up when the hearings are blown wide open next week.

In one exchange, Taylor offered a closer look at former national security adviser John Bolton’s position in the fray just ahead of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

According to the transcript, Bolton not only told Taylor to notify Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about his own grievances regarding the freeze of military aid, but Bolton himself confessed to Taylor that he too  disclosed concerns about the hold to CIA Director Gina Haspel and “two secretaries” – Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Bolton “did not want to have the call because he thought it was going to be a disaster,” Taylor testified.

As Taylor’s testimony was published Wednesday afternoon, Giuliani announced on Twitter that he has hired three attorneys to represent him as his business deals in Ukraine come under the microscope of federal prosecutors in New York.

“The evidence, when revealed fully, will show that this present farce is as much a frame-up and hoax as Russian collusion, maybe worse and will prove the President is innocent.” Giuliani tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

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