Shared from the 11/7/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Envoy: Ukraine quid pro quo was clear



WASHINGTON — A State Department envoy told lawmakers it was his “clear understanding” the U.S. government intended to withhold military aid from Ukraine until the country committed to investigations sought by President Donald Trump, including into a political rival, according to a transcript of the closed-door interview released Wednesday.

William Taylor told impeachment investigators he understood that the security assistance, and not just a White House meeting for Ukraine’s new president, was conditioned on the country committing to investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and also Democrats’ actions in the 2016 election.

“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor said.

He was asked if he was aware that “quid pro quo” meant “this for that.”

“I am,” he replied.

The testimony from Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, further connects the Trump administration to a quid-pro-quo agreement involving Ukraine that is now at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry.

Release of the transcript came as the Democrats launched a major new phase of the investigation with public hearings scheduled for next week featuring State Department officials, including Taylor.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment investigation, said the committee would also hear from career department official George Kent and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch next Wednesday and Friday.

All three have already testified behind closed doors in the first phase of the investigation. Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May at Trump’s direction, told investigators she had been told to “watch my back” and that people were “looking to hurt” her. Both Kent and Taylor testified about their concerns about her dismissal as the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took a leading role on Ukraine policy.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. But despite those denials, Schiff said that the witnesses will show that “the most important facts are largely not contested” in the inquiry.

“Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” Schiff said.

Republicans, signaling a line of attack they may pursue during the open hearings, downplayed Taylor’s testimony by arguing that he received none of the information firsthand. Taylor said in the interview that he hadn’t spoken directly to Trump and Giuliani.

In the final stretch of questioning, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., grilled Taylor on whether he had primary knowledge that Trump was demanding that Ukraine investigate the Bidens. Taylor said he had heard from other diplomats and understood that the demand had been relayed to them by Giuliani. Zeldin says that information was “secondhand or thirdhand.”

The three committees that have been leading the investigation appear to be wrapping up the closed-door testimony this week.

Democrats on Wednesday withdrew a subpoena for former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, who filed a federal lawsuit seeking guidance on whether he needed to comply. They have also invited former national security adviser, John Bolton, to appear on Thursday, though Bolton’s lawyer has said he would not come without a subpoena.

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