WASHINGTON — The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine provided House investigators Tuesday with what some lawmakers described as the most detailed and shocking account they’ve yet heard regarding President Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine to help investigate his political enemies, according to Democrats who left the secured hearing room.
“It was the most thorough account we had so far of the events we’ve been investigating,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. “It resolved any remaining doubts I have had.”
Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Calif., described audible gasps from lawmakers as William Taylor shared his 15-page opening statement. The statement itself has not been released officially but has been published by some media outlets; it was described by lawmakers as thorough and based on contemporaneous notes he took.
He “astonished all of us” with his opening statement, Rouda said.
This carefully detailed memo by William Taylor, the American charge in Kiev, documents Trump' s gross abuse of power on Ukraine to subvert bipartisan, legislated goals of US policy, for political reasons. Strikes me as the most damaging evidence yet. https://t.co/lUH7hfC84y
— David Ignatius (@IgnatiusPost) October 22, 2019
Another lawmaker described it as the most disturbing day in his 10-month congressional career.
Lawmakers refused to detail the content of Taylor’s testimony, citing rules that testimony is not supposed to be shared outside of the hearing room below the U.S. Capitol building where depositions in the House’s impeachment inquiry are being held. Taylor’s testimony began at 9:30 a.m. Eastern and was expected to last all day.
Taylor, who came out of retirement to lead the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, has already provided Democrats with what they consider some of the most damning evidence that Trump was engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine to help his re-election campaign.
Taylor and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, exchanged text messages in July in which Taylor expressed concern about whether a delay in sending congressionally approved aid to Ukraine was linked to Trump’s demand that the new Ukrainian government open an investigation into whether that nation interfered in the 2016 election.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in a text message.
About four hours later, Sondland texted Taylor that Trump “has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind.”
Sondland told House investigators last week that Trump personally told him in a short phone call that there was no quid pro quo. Two Democratic lawmakers suggested that Sondland may have to reappear before the committees based on new information they learned from Taylor’s testimony.
Taylor testifies that he was "very concerned" about security aid withheld in exchange for Ukraine investigations. Then, he says Sondland told him that Trump made clear that "everything" including aid, was dependent on Urkaine declaring probes into Burisma and 2016.
Quid pro quo? pic.twitter.com/aqeEUMse3A
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 22, 2019
On Thursday, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that Trump’s decision to withhold about $400 million in aid was in part because of his desire for Ukraine to look into claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his comments, insisting there was no quid pro quo.
There has been no evidence that Ukraine intervened. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report confirmed the conclusion reached by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the presidential election to help Trump.
I'm thinking US lawmakers are gonna want to talk to Sondland again. pic.twitter.com/K0UmcKsijT
— Oblivier Knox (@OKnox) October 22, 2019
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee and a key Trump defender, suggested that some of Taylor’s testimony reinforced the president’s assertion that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
“There was information that came out, particularly in the second hour, that underscores concerns that the president had about Ukraine in general,” Jordan said.
Taylor is now seen by many as a witness who could be invited to return to testify in a public setting. Democrats have said they will likely hold some public hearings at a later date.
GOP first tried a hearsay defense. Then a process defense. Then they attacked Schiff.
Based on the reporting below on the statement of Bill Taylor, my prediction is that some Republicans will now say quid pro quo is okay. And then they will lose their last shreds of integrity. https://t.co/kzzsNUrPp5
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) October 22, 2019
“He’s credible, he’s consistent, he’s a career public servant — 50 years of public service, West Point graduate, served in Vietnam,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamorothi, D-Ill. “I don’t see how anybody could possibly think this man was telling anything but the truth.”
The testimony comes as Trump compared the Democrats’ impeachment investigation to a “lynching,” a tweet that sparked a backlash from Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed with Trump that the process was “not fair” but said, “I don’t agree with that language.”
“The House Democrats are clearly pushing really hard and playing politics with all this stuff,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. “I get his frustration. I probably wouldn’t use that language.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called it irresponsible for the president to compare an impeachment investigation “to such a dangerous and dark chapter in American history. “I hope he will apologize,” he added.
Democrats are facing important questions about the future of their impeachment inquiry nearly a month after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced it would get underway. Testimony from key witnesses has often led Democratic-controlled committees to seek out additional witnesses, a compounding effect that has likely pushed their original goal of holding a formal vote on impeachment by Thanksgiving out of reach.
They also have to decide whether to keep the inquiry narrowly focused on Ukraine or expand it into other areas of investigation, including whether Trump has personally profited from the presidency, which would violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
Democrats hoped that Taylor’s testimony Tuesday would bolster their case. Taylor came out of retirement to take the job in Ukraine shortly after Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was removed from the post. She testified earlier this month that she was removed for political reasons.
Trump administration officials have said they would not cooperate in the House’s impeachment investigation. Taylor faced a subpoena to appear.
I served with Amb. Bill Taylor in Iraq. Duty, sacrifice and service are the hallmarks of his life. He always put our country first
President Trump tried to stop him from testifying. By defying Trump attempt to obstruct, Amb. Taylor once again shows what a true patriot looks like pic.twitter.com/qNPcEfLiM6
— Anthony Brown (@RepAnthonyBrown) October 22, 2019
House Democrats had originally planned up to seven depositions this week but they are now expected to hold three because of the recent death of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md. He will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol National Statuary Hall on Thursday and his funeral will be Friday.
After Taylor’s testimony, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper is expected to appear for a deposition on Wednesday. Another U.S. diplomat, Philip Reeker, is slated to testify on Saturday, according to an official working on the impeachment investigation.