- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2019

House Democrats announced Wednesday they will hold the first public hearings in their impeachment inquiry of President Trump next week, as they released the testimony of a key former ambassador who claims the White House tied U.S. military aid to Ukraine’s promise to investigate Democratic presidential frontrunner Joseph R. Biden.

After questioning witnesses behind closed doors at the Capitol for five weeks, Rep. Adam B. Schiff said public testimony will begin Nov. 13 with appearances by two top State Department officials, William Taylor and George Kent.

“I think you will see throughout the course of the testimony … the most important facts are largely not contested,” Mr. Schiff, California Democrat and House intelligence committee chairman, told reporters.

House Democrats released a transcript of Mr. Taylor’s closed-door testimony Wednesday, the fourth time they have done so since voting last week to move forward with a public impeachment probe.

Mr. Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has told impeachment investigators it was his “understanding” that the administration would withhold U.S military aid until the Ukrainian president agreed to investigations sought by Mr. Trump.

“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] committed to pursue the investigation,” Mr. Taylor told lawmakers.

SEE ALSO: David Hale, impeachment witness, is career foreign-service diplomat at State Department

He said he believed the requests for Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and possible interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election came from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and a central figure in the Ukraine furor.

But Mr. Taylor also acknowledged in his testimony last month that he didn’t hear the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president, he didn’t see a transcript of the call until it was released in late September, and he’s never spoken to Mr. Trump or Mr. Giuliani.

“Has anyone ever asked you to speak to Mr. Giuliani?” he was asked.

“No,” Mr. Taylor said.

“Have you spoken to the president of the United States?” a lawmaker asked him.

“I have not,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Democrats to hold public impeachment hearings next week

“You had no communications with the president of the United States?”

“Correct,” Mr. Taylor said.

Another envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has testified there was “no linkage” between the military aid and the investigations.

The White House again criticized the impeachment inquiry for relying on witnesses with second-hand information. A new Monmouth University poll released Wednesday showed 73% of the public has little or no confidence in the process.

“The hearings should have been public from the beginning,” White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters. “They can’t cure a bad process, and I think that’s why no Republican voted with the Democrats, and frankly two Democrats voted with the Republicans — because the process has been ill-conceived from the beginning. You cannot unscramble that egg; you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Legal strategist Mike Davis, whose name has been floated as a possible White House counsel for the impeachment proceedings, said the public hearings would at least give Mr. Trump’s defenders an opportunity to put on display the bias of the House Democrats’ effort.

“What the House Republicans need to message is, this is an impeachment mob in search of a high crime and misdemeanor,” said Mr. Davis, a former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee who led the effort to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“The overall messaging needs to be: this is our president, whether the swamp creatures like it or not. And if you don’t like our president, vote him out of office. Impeachment overturns the will of the American people and should not be done lightly,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s allies have also called on Jeff Roe, founder and CEO of political consultancy Axiom Strategies, to get involved in the impeachment fight as a White House strategist. Mr. Roe formerly managed the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican.

He was mum on the calls for him to get directly involved but had a harsh critique of the inquiry.

“Adam Schiff’s sham Salem witch trial would make Samuel Parrish blush,” Mr. Roe said, referring to the Puritan minister who prosecuted his own daughter and niece in the infamous witch trial. “The Democrats’ verdict is already in, they are now just orchestrating a show trial for the public after a highly secretive inquisition.”

Unlike other transcripts of witnesses’ testimony that have been released so far, some of the beginning of Mr. Taylor’s transcript has been redacted.

The transcript also sheds light on the volatile proceedings behind the inquiry’s closed doors. In once terse exchange, Rep. Chip Roy, Texas Republican, clashed with the committee’s Democratic leaders about Republicans being shut out of the process.

The Democrats running the hearing cut him off by declaring him “out of order.”

“This whole hearing is out of order,” shot back Mr. Roy.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, New York Republican, hammered Mr. Taylor during questioning for giving hearsay testimony about an alleged quid pro quo.

“This isn’t firsthand. It’s not secondhand. It’s not thirdhand,” Mr. Zeldin challenged Mr. Taylor. “But if I understand this correctly, you’re telling us that [former presidential adviser] Tim Morrison told you that [European Union] Ambassador Sondland told him that the president told Ambassador Sondland that Zelensky would have to open an investigation into Biden?”

“That’s correct,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor told the inquiry that at the time of the July phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, the Ukrainians did not know the U.S. military aid had been put on hold.

It was only later that he learned there could be a connection between the aid and the request for investigations, which he described as a “stalemate” holding up the money.

Mr. Taylor said that he “connected the dots” to figure out what was going on.

In early September, after the delayed aid was made public in a Politico article, Mr. Taylor said he still didn’t know why it happened when asked by Ukraine officials.

“I’m a representative of the United States government out there, and he asked me a perfectly legitimate question, ‘why are you holding up this assistance,’ and I couldn’t tell him,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor’s transcript described in detail what he understood to be two channels of foreign policy — an official one he operated in which focused on “institution building,” and an irregular channel led by Mr. Giuliani that focused specifically on the 2016 election and Biden family’s connection to Ukraine.

When Mr. Taylor testified last month, Democrats billed it as one of the most disturbing accounts they had yet heard, as he outlined a meticulous timeline of events in the Ukraine incident.

He became one of the House Democrats’ most anticipated witnesses after text messages between him and Mr. Volker showed that Mr. Taylor was concerned about a quid pro quo sought by Mr. Trump.

The impeachment inquiry is centered on accusations that Mr. Trump tried to pressure Mr. Zelensky into opening investigations into Mr. Biden’s influence in Ukraine, where his son Hunter held a lucrative post with an energy company, and into alleged 2016 election interference. The president is accused of holding up nearly $400 million in military aid.

Mr. Taylor told lawmakers that by mid-July, he was aware that a meeting between the two presidents — which both Americans and Ukrainians were pushing for — would not happen unless the Ukrainians cooperated with the investigations. Around the same time, the Office of Management and Budget announced that military aid would be delayed to Ukraine.

According to Mr. Taylor, that decision came through Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

By early September, Mr. Taylor learned from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that military aid was also contingent on cooperation with the investigations and that the president wanted Mr. Zelensky to “clear things up” in a CNN interview.

Mr. Taylor also described how National Security Council officials Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman told him that then-National Security Advisor John Bolton stormed out of a meeting with Ukrainian officials after Mr. Sondland mentioned the investigations.

“John Bolton understood what the reference was and walked out the meeting,” he said. “He understood, more than I, I guess at the time, that this was — this could lead to interference in U.S. political life and he wanted nothing of it.”

Even as the Democrats open up the impeachment inquiry, the closed-door depositions are still ongoing.

Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale is the only witness to appear for his scheduled deposition this week. He was expected to tell lawmakers on Wednesday about the political influence at the State Department, particularly surrounding the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican who has consistently attended the closed-door depositions, said there was no mention of a quid pro quo in the deposition.

“He made a compelling case that there was absolutely no linkage between suspension of military aid and political investigations,” he said.

Democrats still have a packed schedule for the rest of the week with depositions scheduled for Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney, though neither man likely will appear.

Mr. Taylor, 72, is a graduate of West Point who served for six years as an Army infantry officer, including with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He has served in administrations of both parties since 1985.

One of his first jobs in Washington was as a staffer to then-Sen. Bill Bradley, New Jersey Democrat. From 2006 to 2009, Mr. Taylor served as ambassador to Ukraine; he also has overseen U.S. aid to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, has been in the Foreign Service since 1992. He oversees policy for several Eastern European countries including Ukraine, and previously served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

During the Obama administration, Mr. Kent was the senior “anti-corruption coordinator” in the State Department’s European Bureau from 2014 to 15, “leading development and advocacy of anti-corruption messages across Europe and Eurasia,” according to his biography on the State Department’s web site.

⦁ Ryan Lovelace and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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