Tuesday may have been a turning point in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.
That’s according to House Democrats, who emerged from a deposition that lasted more than nine hours with the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor saying Taylor’s testimony was explosive and damning to Donald Trump.
Taylor’s 15-page opening statement leaked out, in which he said that Trump made the order to withhold crucial military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
The statement provided evidence not only of a quid pro quo but also that Trump was personally seeking illegal foreign interference in the 2020 election.
“This testimony is a sea change,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), who is part of the committee that interviewed Taylor, said Tuesday. “I think it could accelerate matters. This will, I think, answer more questions than it raises.”
Taylor painted in excruciating detail how Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate the Bidens, implicating Trump, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Trump donor turned Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and former U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker all worked together to try to force the quid pro quo.
Taylor wrote in his opening statement:
“Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with [Ukrainian] President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
Later, Taylor explained a text message between himself and Sondland, in which Taylor told Sondland that holding up military aid to Ukraine to force a Biden investigation was “crazy.”
“Before these text messages, during our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta European Strategy Conference. I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy,’ as I had said in my text message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.”
The testimony puts Republicans, who have been defending Trump, in a bind.
They already laid down their marker that a quid pro quo was unacceptable. Now such evidence exists, and they will have to decide whether to continue to defend Trump or stick to their initial red line.
The White House, for its part, is trying to smear Taylor as a “radical” actor — a baseless and ridiculous accusation against a career public servant who served in the military as well as under former President George W. Bush.
Depositions will continue on Wednesday, though others scheduled for this week have been postponed as members of Congress attend memorial services for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who died last week.