House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will call his first witness in the public hearing phase of the “impeachment inquiry” on Wednesday: Ambassador William Taylor, Chargé d’affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine.
Taylor testified behind closed doors in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on October 22 — an arrangement that drew criticism from Republicans. The “impeachment inquiry” was only authorized nine days later.
Unlike past inquiries, the president is not being allowed legal representation in any of the hearings prior to a final round in the House Judiciary Committee. Moreover, the minority party cannot object to any witnesses called by the majority — again, a departure from the precedents in the Nixon and Clinton impeachment inquiries.
Taylor is being called as the Democrats’ first witness because of all the witnesses, he offered the clearest statement of his belief — his “clear understanding” — that the U.S. was withholding aid to Ukraine until President Volodymyr Zelensky made a public commitment to investigate possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and to re-open an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the company on whose board Hunter Biden — the son of former Vice President Joe Biden — sat from 2014 until this year, including when his father was in office.
Key Democratic Talking Points
1. Taylor testified that it was his “clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation.” This is the most definitive statement of a “quid pro quo” in all of the testimony heard by the impeachment inquiry thus far, at least on those transcripts that have been made public.
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Taylor testified that he had no firsthand knowledge of any such quid pro quo, and that he had never spoken to Trump directly: “I had no conversations with the President.” (Democrats do acknowledge in their “excerpts” prepared for the media that Taylor testified that he heard, third-hand, that the president said there was no “quid pro quo.”) Taylor also said he thought it “improper” — not illegal.
2. Taylor testified: “Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.” He added that Sondland said “a White House meeting with President Zelensky” — which the Ukrainians wanted as a show of support for the new government” was dependent on a public announcement of investigations.
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: While he disagreed with the president’s approach, Taylor did not initially think Trump’s request involved a suspension of aid. In fact, he testified, it “had still not occurred to me” that the president was withholding aid in exchange for a commitment to investigations even after an August 28, 2019 article in Politico about aid being withheld (which was the first that Ukraine heard about it).
3. Taylor testified that he threatened to resign in the event that Zelensky made a statement about investigating 2016 and Burisma, and that U.S. aid to Ukraine still was not released after that. He called that a “nightmare” scenario, because it would be a signal of weakness to Russia, which would be emboldened by the lack of U.S. support.
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Taylor also testified that the Trump administration, unlike the Obama administration, had provided lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, which he said made him “very happy” and called a “substantial improvement” over Obama’s policy. He later noted that the crucial Javelin antitank weapons, which tipped the balance in Ukraine, were not part of the aid on hold. The aid was later delivered.
4. Taylor testified that there seemed to be two channels for U.S. foreign policy — one “regular” or official, and one “irregular, informal channel” including “then-Special Envoy [to Ukraine] Kurt Volker, Ambassador [to the E.U. Gordon] Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani.”
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Taylor also testified that he did not object to Giuliani’s role, at least initially: “Actually, I wasn’t disturbed by that. It’s not unusual to ask people outside the government to play a role … We all have seen that, and that’s okay, as long as it’s consistent with and supports the main thrust of U.S. fore’ign policy.” His view changed over time, but he did not object to Giuliani having a role, in theory.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.