WASHINGTON – Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, told House committees on Tuesday that Washington informed him earlier this year that delivery of already-approved military aid to Kyiv depended on that country agreeing to investigate Democrats, and his “incriminating” testimony could accelerate the launching of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Taylor testified behind closed doors before House committees pursuing the investigation to determine if the US president committed impeachable offenses, and in his lengthy and detailed opening statement – which took over an hour to deliver before lawmakers began posing questions to him –, he confirmed something that the White House has denied repeatedly: that delivery of the military aid to Ukraine was conditioned upon Kyiv seeking damaging information on the Democrats.
Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz told The Washington Post during a break in Taylor’s testimony that his was the “most incriminating” testimony she had heard.
According to a transcript of Taylor’s opening statement obtained by The Post, the envoy to Ukraine told lawmakers that when he took over at the US Embassy in Kyiv last June, he noted that there was a parallel and “informal” channel for managing the bilateral relationship and spoke with the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, about it.
“During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election,” Taylor said, according to his written statement provided to lawmakers.
Burisma is a Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, served in 2016. Joe Biden is currently one of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls and may face off against Trump in the 2020 election.
Trump has claimed, without proof, that the then-vice president in 2015 pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who had investigated Burisma in the past to protect the interests of his son, and he has called publicly for Zelensky to investigate that allegedly corrupt act.
To date, however, the White House has denied that its decision to temporarily withhold $400 million in military aid to Ukraine – which finally was released – had anything to do with Trump’s desire for Kyiv to investigate his political rival, although White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admitted as much in a press briefing last week.
Taylor disputed that idea, saying that Sondland told him that “‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance” and the confirmation of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky.
In addition, Taylor said that a White House official, Tim Morrison, told him that Sondland had told a top Ukrainian official, Andriy Yermak, that the security aid would not arrive until Zelensky publicly promised to investigate Burisma.
Taylor’s testimony contradicts that of Sondland, who last week told investigators that he did not recall “any conversation” in the White House or the State Department about former VP Biden, and thus it is possible that lawmakers will call him back to testify to resolve the discrepancy.
Taylor’s testimony “is a sea change” in the investigation into whether or not to impeach Trump, Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts told reporters after the hearing.
“I think it could accelerate matters,” said Lynch.
A few weeks ago, text messages were publicly leaked in which Taylor warned other diplomats, including Sondland, that it was “crazy” for the US to “withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”