When the definitive history of Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry is written, William B. Taylor Jr. will require a chapter all his own. The career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine put the bricks to Trump’s “no quid pro quo” defense on Tuesday during closed-door testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and did so in terms so stark and clear that gasps and sighs could be heard from the lawmakers as they listened.
The outline of Taylor’s testimony became public after The Washington Post obtained and published a copy of his 15-page opening statement. The document reads like a litany of doom for Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani, U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland (who should probably be talking to an attorney versed in perjury defenses after his own testimony was soundly refuted by Taylor) and everyone else involved in running Trump’s “shadow diplomacy” in Ukraine.
According to Taylor and the ample supporting evidence he offered, the matter is plain: Donald Trump manipulated the foreign policy of the United States in an attempt to gain an advantage over a political rival and that rival’s party.
Specifically, Trump ordered his “shadow diplomats” to make it clear to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that he had to “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of [Joe] Biden and 2016 election interference.” Failure to do so would result in the continued hold on nearly $400 million in military aid allocated to Ukraine by Congress. A proffered meeting between Zelensky and Trump would also be withheld unless those investigations were undertaken and publicly announced.
It does not get any more quid pro quo than that.
All of a sudden, Mitch McConnell and his Republican pals in the Senate have a serious decision to make, and soon. If articles of impeachment are drafted and put to a full House vote, the outcome at this point is all but guaranteed: Donald Trump will be impeached. For the Republicans, the hard part will begin with the Senate trial to determine if Trump should be removed.
With the full Senate chamber seated, it will require 67 votes to remove Trump from office. There are 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats, leaving a 20-vote gap for removal. Some 19 Republican senators are running for re-election in 2020, and the pressure on some of them — Martha McSally, Susan Collins, Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner to name a few — will be extreme. Leaving aside the fate of Donald Trump, the balance of power in the Senate may very well also be in play depending on how these imperiled Republican senators vote during an impeachment trial.
William Taylor’s testimony is but a harbinger of what is still to come, which puts McConnell and his Senate Republican caucus in an even bigger bind. According to Taylor, National Security Council aide Tim Morrison personally heard Sondland put the quid pro quo demand explicitly to Zelensky’s aide, Andriy Yermak. The ink on a subpoena for Morrison’s testimony is probably drying as I type these words.
Morrison, like Taylor, was in the room when much of this shady dealing took place. There are others like them, and as they make their way to the committee room to deliver their sworn eyewitness testimony, Trump’s blather about the “fake whistleblower” and the “witch hunt, again” sounds as hollow as the moaning of the wind through an empty rain barrel.
Of course, there are still plenty of Republicans who intend to stand by their man in the face of such damning information. GOP Rep. Mark Meadows organized a pro-Trump pep rally for his friends in the far-right House Freedom Caucus. “There was no quid pro quo,” he said of the testimony presented to date. “There is not evidence that there was any condition to the aid.”
Meadows and his Freedom Caucus buddies can look a duck straight in the bill and say, “That’s an eagle, because America!” Some people may even believe them because they hear it on Fox News. The rest of the country, however, knows a duck when it quacks, and this duck is quacking to beat the band.
Many Republicans have set the existence of a quid pro quo on Ukraine as their bright line, none more so than Sen. Lindsey Graham. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” he told Jonathan Swan of Axios. According to Taylor’s testimony, that bright line is receding rapidly in the rearview mirror, and there is still more testimony to come.
Mitch McConnell is many terrible things, but he is also politically savvy. Already, the majority leader is putting measurable daylight between himself and the Oval Office. Recently, Trump bragged that McConnell had personally told him his Ukraine phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” and “innocent.” When asked by reporters on Tuesday about Trump’s comment, McConnell replied, “We’ve not had any conversations on that subject.”
That’s a chill wind right there, friends and neighbors. Mitch McConnell has as much trouble lying as a frog has hopping, so long as the lie serves his interests. But will lying for Trump continue to serve him? McConnell could have backed Trump up on his claim even if it wasn’t true and not broken a sweat — Yes, of course we talked about his perfectly innocent call, next question — but he deliberately chose not to. Billboards in Las Vegas are more subtle than that.
Reading tea leaves is not my bag, and there are a million lightyears of distance between where we are today and where things need to be if the Republican-controlled Senate is to remove Trump from office. That being said, the Tuesday testimony of William Taylor has all the earmarks of being the part of the iceberg you can see. The rest of the monster is lurking below the waterline, waiting to tear the bottom out of Trump’s rusted, overpriced boat.
McConnell and his crew have some sharp political calculus to do. The clock is running and the whole world is watching.