Top US diplomat to Ukraine testifies there was a quid pro quo

Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat to Ukraine, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on October 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Taylor was on Capitol Hill to testify to the committees for the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

This is absolutely devastating to President Trump’s case.

The top US diplomat in Ukraine just told lawmakers that President Donald Trump wanted hundreds of millions in military aid to the Eastern European country held up until it agreed to investigate Joe Biden’s family and another conspiracy theory related to Democrats.

In other words, there was a quid pro quo — one that could eventually lead to Trump’s impeachment in the House and even more trouble with the Senate.

William Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, testified in front of three House committees on Tuesday as part of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. He’s the latest in a parade of current and former US officials who’ve testified in the past few weeks about whether or not Trump withheld around $400 million in military aid to Ukraine for his own political and personal gain.

According to Taylor, that’s exactly what the president did, amounting to by far the most damning account of Trump’s potentially impeachable conduct yet.

The ambassador reportedly said that Trump made the aid contingent upon the new Ukrainian government publicly announcing it would reopen an anti-corruption probe into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company on which Hunter Biden, Joe’s son, once sat on the board.

Taylor said Trump also wanted Kyiv to investigate a long-debunked 2016 election conspiracy theory: that a Democratic National Committee server was whisked away to Ukraine to hide the fact that the country interfered in that vote, not Russia.

It’s not out of the ordinary for the US to dangle incentives to get what it wants from another country. The problem here, as Taylor’s testimony makes clear, is that Trump used his power to get Ukraine to help his reelection efforts by hurting his political rival.

It doesn’t get much more corrupt than that.

Taylor says Trump wanted Ukraine “in a public box,” pressuring the country for a probe into the Bidens

The diplomat’s full testimony has just been released, and what has come out already looks very bad for the president.

Taylor described for lawmakers a series of conversations he had with other Trump administration officials this year about Ukraine policy. In one instance, Taylor outlined what happened on September 1 call with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU who Trump tasked with helping run point on Ukraine policy.

“During that phone call, Amb. Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Taylor wrote in his opening statement on Tuesday.

He continued:

Amb. Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Amb. Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.

“He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations,” Taylor added.

In effect, Taylor told Congress that, in his understanding, if Ukraine wanted anything out of Trump — including a long-desired meeting and much-needed military aid to fend of a Russian invasion — Kyiv had to state unequivocally that it would look into the Bidens.

The drama was always likely going to head in this direction. A White House-released call summary last month showed Trump asking Zelensky on July 25 for a “favor” right before bringing up the DNC server and the Bidens. Sondland’s own testimony to the inquiry last week similarly made it clear that Trump wasn’t willing to meet with Zelensky until he committed to a Burisma probe.

And acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters last week that the administration held up the Ukraine money to compel the Ukrainians to open an inquiry into the supposed long-lost DNC server. Mulvaney later tried to walk his comments back, but it did nothing to diminish what he said on camera, in the White House briefing room, and in front of reporters.

But what we have now — as clear as day — is a respected career diplomat saying unequivocally that Trump demanded that Ukraine had to publicly state it would investigate the Biden-connected gas company before getting what it wanted from America.

That is a quid pro quo that goes right up to the very top.

You can read Taylor’s full opening statement here.