Former U.S. Ambassador William Taylor, a diplomat who has sharply questioned U.S. President Donald Trump‘s policy on Ukraine, has provided lawmakers with a “disturbing” account of events at the centre of the impeachment probe, Democrats said Tuesday.
Lawmakers emerging after the early hours of the private deposition said Taylor had given a lengthy opening statement, with a recall of events that filled in gaps from the testimony of other witnesses. They said Taylor kept records at the time of conversations and documents.
“The testimony is very disturbing,” said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., used the same word. Asked why, he said, “Because it’s becoming more distinct.”
Taylor’s appearance is among the most watched because of a text message, released by House investigators earlier in the probe, in which he called Trump’s attempt to leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for a political investigation “crazy.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Taylor “drew a straight line” with documents, timelines and individual conversations in his records at the hearing.
“I do not know how you would listen to today’s testimony from Ambassador Taylor and come to any other (conclusion) except that the president abused his power and withheld foreign aid,” she said.
Lawmakers did not discuss details of what they heard in the closed-door session that was expected to continue all day, and Taylor declined to comment as he entered the deposition. He was the latest diplomat with concerns to testify. Like the others, he was subpoenaed to appear.
Rep Ami Bera, D-Calif., said Taylor, a career civil servant, had a better recall of details than Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador who testified last week.
Taylor was expected to discuss text messages he exchanged with two other diplomats earlier this year as Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate unsupported claims about Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
The diplomat was one of several intermediaries between Trump and Ukrainian officials as the president advocated for the investigations. Taylor had been chosen to run the embassy there after the administration abruptly ousted the Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
In a series of text messages released earlier this month by U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Taylor appeared to be alarmed by Trump’s efforts as the U.S. was also withholding military assistance to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in excerpts of the text messages released by the impeachment investigators.
He has stood by that observation in his private remarks to investigators, according to a person familiar with his testimony who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Taylor’s description of Trump’s position is in sharp contrast to how the president has characterized it. Trump has said many times that there was no quid pro quo, though his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney contradicted that last week. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his remarks.
Taylor, a former Army officer, had been serving as executive vice-president at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think-tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kyiv after Yovanovitch was removed before the end of her term following a campaign against her led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
He had served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
“He’s the epitome of a seasoned statesman,” said John Shmorhun, an American who heads the agricultural company AgroGeneration.
Before retiring from government service, Taylor was involved in diplomatic efforts surrounding several major international conflicts. He served in Jerusalem as U.S. envoy to the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers. He oversaw reconstruction in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and from Kabul co-ordinated U.S. and international assistance to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003.
He arrived in Kyiv a month after the sudden departure of Yovanovitch and the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president, prepared to steer the embassy through the transition. He was most likely not prepared for what happened next.
In July, Trump would have his now-famous phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he pressed the new Ukrainian president to launch the investigations. Trump at the time had quietly put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine was counting on in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
In the follow-up to the call, Taylor exchanged texts with two of Trump’s point men on Ukraine as they were trying to get Zelenskiy to commit to the investigations before setting a date for a coveted White House visit.
In a text message to Sondland on Sept. 1, Taylor bluntly questioned Trump’s motives: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told him to call on the phone.
In texts a week later to Sondland and special envoy Volker, Taylor expressed increased concern, calling it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” In a reply several hours later, Sondland defended Trump’s intentions and suggested they stop the back-and-forth by text.
Taylor had also texted that not giving the military aid to Ukraine would be his “nightmare” scenario because it would send the wrong message to both Kyiv and Moscow: “The Russians love it. (And I quit).”
U.S. diplomats based at the Kyiv embassy have refused to speak with journalists, reflecting the sensitivity of the impeachment inquiry. The embassy press office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.