Five takeaways from US envoy's explosive testimony

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, delivered testimony on Tuesday that Democrats say provided the clearest evidence yet that President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE held up military aid to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations that would be politically advantageous to him. 

Taylor’s nine-hour testimony played out completely behind closed doors, but leaked copies of his lengthy opening statement provided several new details about the Trump administration’s foreign policy on Ukraine and alleged quid pro quo that is at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Here are five of the biggest takeaways from his statement to Congress: 

Taylor describes a quid pro quo

Taylor’s testimony undermined a key facet of the White House’s defense amid the impeachment inquiry — that there was no quid pro quo involved in the administration’s interactions with Ukraine. 


Taylor testified that he became aware that a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as security assistance to Ukraine were conditioned on Kiev pursuing investigations into Ukraine’s alleged involvement in 2016 election interference and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that employed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE’s son Hunter.

Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, “that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.” 

Previous witnesses, including Sondland and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, have separated the issue of Burisma from the Bidens and denied involvement in an effort to involve Ukraine in the 2020 U.S. election. 

But Taylor made clear in his opening statement that he viewed administration officials as pushing for Ukraine’s help “with a domestic political campaign” and said the issues of Burisma and the Bidens were linked to the nearly $400 million in aid. 

Trump and his GOP allies, however, have continued to argue there was no quid pro quo. The president shared a quote from a Fox News interview with Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers Biden considering King for director of national intelligence: report Haspel not in attendance at latest Trump intelligence briefing: reports MORE (R-Texas) during which he claimed the Ukrainians were never aware on July 25 — the date of Trump's phone call with Zelensky — that the military aid was being withheld and that there couldn’t be a quid pro quo “with no quo.” 

“The Do Nothing Dems case is DEAD!” Trump tweeted. 

Taylor in his opening statement cited conversations between U.S. officials and Ukraine leadership about the money being delayed after the phone call. 

Taylor testimony puts scrutiny on Sondland

Taylor’s testimony appears to contradict that of Sondland and has drawn more scrutiny of the EU diplomat. Democrats say they will now call Sondland to testify again, with some lawmakers threatening to refer him to the Justice Department for perjury. 

“After today, Mr. Sondland is going to have some explaining to do,” Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHHS scraps celebrity COVID-19 ad campaign aimed at 'defeating despair' Documents show 'political' nature of Trump COVID ad campaign, lawmakers say Trust and transparency are necessary to make COVID-19 vaccine successful MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters after emerging from Taylor’s deposition.

Sondland had testified last week that, after consulting with Trump, he was informed there was no quid pro quo arrangement involving the Ukraine aid. The wealthy Seattle hotelier and major Trump donor repeated that assertion in a text message to Taylor on Sept. 9. 

But Taylor told lawmakers Tuesday that Sondland himself had told Taylor by phone that “everything,” including the military aid, was contingent on Ukraine publicly announcing the political investigations. 

“During our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor told congressional investigators. 

“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 singing the check.”

And Taylor indicated that despite insisting there was no quid pro quo in conversations, there was still an expectation relayed to Ukraine that the aid was contingent on public commitments from Zelensky to investigate Biden and 2016.

Taylor also named other individuals who could corroborate his account. He described a phone call with Tim Morrison, a top White House National Security Council official, who told him that Sondland had a conversation about a quid pro quo with a top representative for Zelensky, Andriy Yermak.

“During this same phone call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak,” Taylor testified. “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”

New details offered on shadow diplomacy led by Giuliani

Taylor gave lawmakers new and explicit details about the involvement of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump calls into Pennsylvania meeting to renew election claims Watch live: Pennsylvania GOP holds hearing on voter fraud with Giuliani, Trump campaign A way out of Trump's continuing crisis: a President Pence MORE in government business, describing “two channels” for carrying out foreign policy in Ukraine.

“I found a confusing and unusual arrangement for making U.S. policy toward Ukraine,” he said. “There appeared to be two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.”

The regular channel was led by diplomatic staff in Ukraine while the irregular channel involved Giuliani, Volker and Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryChip Roy fends off challenge from Wendy Davis to win reelection in Texas The Memo: Texas could deliver political earthquake The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE, Taylor said. Giuliani in particular appeared to be tied directly to efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” Taylor testified. “It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”

Giuliani has openly acknowledged seeking damaging information on Biden. He has become further ensnared in Democrats’ investigation after two of his associates were arrested for alleged campaign finance law violations.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.) has left the door open to allowing Giuliani to testify in the Senate, though the former New York City mayor has yet to accept.

Taylor says officials in Ukraine didn't get full readout of July 25 call

Taylor testified that he was left in the dark about much of what Trump and his allies were pursuing in Ukraine, including details of the president’s now-infamous July 25 call with Zelensky.

“Strangely, even though I was Chief of Mission and was scheduled to meet with President Zelensky along with Ambassador Volker the following day, I received no readout of the call from the White House,” Taylor said in his 15-page opening statement. “The Ukrainian government issued a short, cryptic summary.”

The first time Taylor saw the transcript of the call was when the White House released a memo of the conversation late last month that showed Trump asking Zelensky to “look into” the Bidens and requesting a favor in the form of an investigation into a cyber company with ties to the 2016 U.S. election.

The lack of communication surrounding the call reflected a broader pattern of efforts by some in the administration taking pains to keep their interactions with Ukrainian officials quiet, the opening remarks suggest.

Taylor described in his testimony another call in June in which Sondland did not want many regular staff members on a call with Zelensky.

“Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker, Secretary Perry, and I were on this call, dialing in from different locations,” Taylor said. “However, Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelensky to the call.”

Taylor worried Ukrainians would die as a result of the policy

Taylor detailed a grim view of how withholding aid may affect Ukrainians who are locked in a violent years-long battle with Russia-backed separatists.

Taylor said after a late July meeting with Zelensky, he traveled with Volker to the frontline in northern Donbas, where he received a briefing about from the commander of the forces on the line of contact at a time when the security assistance was on hold. There, he witnessed the aggression of Russian-led fighters first hand.

“Ambassador Volker and I could see the hostile Russian-led forces on the other side of the damaged bridge across the line of contact,” Taylor recalled.

He expressed worry that withholding nearly $400 million in aid, which aimed to combat Russian aggression in Ukraine, would lead to more lives lost. And he emphasized that the U.S. must help Ukraine “in its fight against its bullying neighbor.”

“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,” his opening remarks read.