- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine fueled Democrats’ impeachment inquiry Tuesday after telling lawmakers that both foreign aid and a White House meeting were contingent on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly vowing to open investigations that President Trump wanted, including a probe into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and 2016 election interference.

William Taylor, who appeared before lawmakers under a subpoena, said he discovered an “irregular” back channel headed by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, that pursued a different objective than official foreign policy.

“The push to make President Zelensky publicly committed to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian energy company where Mr. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of directors.

Mr. Taylor became one of Congress’ most anticipated witnesses after text messages between him and former Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker showed him to be concerned about quid pro quo by Mr. Trump.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, who was in the room for Mr. Taylor’s opening remarks, and several other Democratic lawmakers said his testimony was one of the most disturbing days in office for them.

California Democrat Rep. Harley Rouda said his opening statement drew “a lot of sighs and gasps” from the room.

Ms. Wasserman-Schultz described his testimony as filling in a giant puzzle with a detailed, comprehensive timeline of events.

“It’s like if you had a big 1,000-piece puzzle on the table and these subsequent depositions have really started to fill in pieces where at the beginning it’s not clear how everything is connected,” she said. “This filled in a lot of pieces of the puzzle.”

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.

“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Mr. Taylor said. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about wording such investigations.”

On Sept. 11, the diplomat learned that military aid had been released to Ukraine, and he spent the following two days trying to confirm with Ukrainian officials that the CNN interview would not happen.

The White House remained defiant Tuesday and maintained the president did nothing wrong.

“This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo. Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed door, secretive hearings,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Mr. Taylor’s detailed testimony clarified the roles many key players had in the Ukraine incident, particularly then-National Security Adviser John R. Bolton and Mr. Sondland. The ambassador testified before lawmakers last week, reportedly saying that he was directed by the president to work with Mr. Giuliani on Ukraine.

“I walk away with the impression Mr. Sondland is going to have some explaining to do,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said the need for Mr. Bolton’s testimony becomes “more compelling” every day.

An aide to Mr. Bolton testified to Congress that the national security adviser was so alarmed about the effort to pressure Ukraine that he told her to alert White House lawyers.

While Democrats were struck by Mr. Taylor’s testimony, Republicans remained in the president’s corner.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the president’s top defenders in Congress, did not say if there was any information in Mr. Taylor’s testimony that could exonerate the president but did believe it would legitimize the issues involving Ukraine.

“There’s information that came out, particularly in this second hour, that underscores the concerns that the president had about Ukraine in general,” he said.

While at least one Democrat said Mr. Taylor’s testimony could be game changing for the impeachment inquiry, others were a bit more cautious.

“None of us want to get ahead of ourselves. There’s a lot more to learn,” Ms. Wasserman-Schultz said.

Mr. Taylor was the first witness to come to Capitol Hill this week. Lawmakers are set to hear from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine Laura Cooper, as well as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker.

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