Yesterday during impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives, the top US diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified that he had been told President Donald Trump would withhold previously promised military aid to the Ukraine until it publicly declared investigations would be launched that could help his reelection chances — including into former Vice President Joe Biden.
In a written opening statement, Taylor says he was told by a National Security Council (NSC) official that President Trump told Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, he had insisted the Ukrainian President “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 interference.”
“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky …and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we could be at a ‘stalemate.’ I understood ‘stalemate to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military aid. (Ukraine had previously fought off Russian led and financed rebels who had threatened to overthrow the government and US and NATO aid had been given to Ukraine to help defend against Russian aggression)
The investigation began when a whistleblower on the national security staff had lodged a formal complaint about a telephone call that President Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Until now, the President and his aides had insisted that even though Trump had mentioned both the large military aide that the US was sending and also asked for investigation the two were not tied together and there was no ‘quid pro quo’, meaning that the military aid was not a condition of Ukraine investigating Trump’s opponents in the next election.
Taylor’s testimony disputes that argument, although he technically got his information from Ambassador Sondland and the official in the NSC. Taylor is the first official from whom we have a statement that Trump used US Congress approved funds as leverage for political help from a foreigh government. Ambassador Sondland has also been called to testify, as has the top Defense Dept. official with responsibility for Ukraine.
If Taylor’s testimony is corroborated by first-hand knowledge, then there will be testimony from more than one source that a crime was committed. If that is the case, the House will have to impeach the President and a trial by the Senate will follow.
The President keeps saying that the impeachment hearings are a political witch hunt, and with Democrats with the majority in the House they certainly gain a political advantage. But the testimony of Taylor, a career diplomat, make that a lot harder to argue. When other officials testify and if their account agrees with Taylor’s, then Trump’s troubles will have just begun.