Unfortunately for Donald Trump – and Gordon Sondland, and Mick Mulvaney, and Rudy Giuliani – Chargé d’Affaires Bill Taylor kept “meticulous” notes documenting his interactions with the various characters at the heart of the Ukraine scandal.
Taylor, the top American diplomat in the country, was the man who, on September 9, told EU ambassador Sondland that in his assessment, it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign”.
That quote is from a cache of texts turned over to Congress by former special envoy Kurt Volker. You can read them all here, but this is the exchange which House Democrats were keen to hear more about when Taylor testified on Tuesday:
Thanks to Sondland’s deposition (last Thursday), we now know that Trump effectively dictated that latter text.
“Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?'”, Sondland said, in a prepared statement. “The President responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro’. The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo multiple times'”.
That call (which, again, informed the last text message shown above) was “very short”, Sondland told lawmakers, adding that as he recalls, “the President was in a bad mood”.
Well, the president was in an even worse mood on Tuesday ahead of Taylor’s testimony and now we know why.
According to Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, Bill turned over some of the contemporaneous notes he kept regarding his interactions with colleagues and Giuliani over the spring and summer. Those notes, Connolly said, “further corroborate” the notion that the Trump administration linked aid to Ukraine to an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. Connolly said Taylor’s testimony was made “more credible” by the existence of his written records.
Taylor also transcribed the phone call he had with Sondland, after the following text exchange:
According to Sondland’s prepared remarks last week, that was totally harmless.
“Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false”, Gordon said. “I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates”.
Long story short, Taylor’s statement suggests Sondland may have lied to Congress last week.
Other accounts of Taylor’s closed-door testimony suggest the acting ambassador described a “direct line” between Trump’s foreign policy and his personal political goals.
As The New York Times writes, “Democrats in attendance called [Taylor’s testimony] the most damaging account yet for the president”.
His 15-page opening statement was “excruciatingly detailed” (as one lawmaker described it) and outlined the quid pro quo pressure campaign that Trump sought to foist on the fledging Volodymyr Zelensky government. Here are some excerpts from that statement:
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.
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.
That, folks, is precisely what Democrats were looking for – or not, actually. Because contrary to the narrative pushed by the GOP, nobody wants to find out that the President of the United States continues to run roughshod over the Constitution.
“[Taylor] drew a very direct line in the series of events he described between President Trump’s decision to withhold funds and refuse a meeting with Zelensky unless there was a public pronouncement by him of investigations of Burisma and the so-called 2016 election conspiracy theories”, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday.
Taylor’s account came amid a string of depositions from former and current officials including the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine Fiona Hill, Sondland, Mike Pompeo’s former top aide Michael McKinley, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent and, of course, Marie Yovanovitch, who implicated Giuliani in the pressure campaign to oust her.
Mark Meadows tried his best to toe the party line on Tuesday. “I don’t know that any of us, if we are being intellectually honest, are hearing revelations that we were not aware of”, he said of Taylor’s testimony. “The bottom line is no one has yet to make the case for why the aid was withheld or even if the Ukrainians knew about it”.
The State department tried to stop Taylor from testifying, but to no avail. On Tuesday morning, Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena.
More excerpts from Taylor’s opening statement
- “[A]s as the Committees are now aware, I said on September 9 in a message to Ambassador Gordon Sondland that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be ‘crazy.’ I believed that then, and I still believe that.”
- “On June 27, Ambassador Sondland told me during a phone conversation that President [Volodymyr] Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President Zelensky, was not standing in the way of ‘investigations.’”
- “By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”
- “I sensed something odd when Ambassador Sondland told me on June 28 that he did not wish to include most of the regular interagency participants in a call planned with President Zelensky later that day. … Ambassador Sondland said he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelensky to the call.”
- “In a regular NSC secure video-conference call on July 18, I heard a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. “
- “Toward the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the person was off-screen — said that she was from OMB and that her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice. I and others sat in astonishment …. All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the President to the Chief of Staff to OMB.”