The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., testified to Congress behind closed doors on Tuesday alleging that there had been a “push” to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election,” according to a transcript of Taylor’s opening statement.
Taylor’s lengthy opening statement has been released in full and can be viewed here.
Taylor, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in his opening statement that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and an employee of the State Department, told him that “everything,” including security assistance to Ukraine, was dependent on a public announcement from Zelensky.
“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor said in his testimony, about a Sept. 1 phone call between himself and Sondland.
Taylor later said: “He [Sondland] said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
In a statement on Tuesday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “President Trump has done nothing wrong. This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.”
“Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings,” she added. “Every day this nonsense continues more taxpayer time and money is wasted. President Trump is leading the way for the American people by delivering a safer, stronger, and more secure country—the do-nothing Democrats should consider doing the same.”
The Call to Ukraine
The Trump-Zelensky July 25 phone call is the focus of an impeachment inquiry into Trump, which was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sept. 24. The White House released the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call on Sept. 25.
Taylor said in his testimony, “I had come to understand well before then [the release of the phone call transcript] that ‘investigations’ was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens.”
The transcript of the call showed that in a part of the call, Trump asked Zelensky to look into the firing of a top Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, in 2016. There was no mention of Burisma in the call.
“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair,” Trump told Zelensky in the call, referring to Shokin. “A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.”
Trump later said in the phone call: “The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went about bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Joe Biden said last year that in 2016, when he was the U.S. vice president, he had threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid from Ukraine unless the country fired Shokin. Shokin was reportedly investigating the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma on which Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, served as a board director.
Trump in another part of the call asked Zelensky to look into CrowdStrike—a technology firm that was hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC)—to probe what happened to its computer network after a potential hack of a DNC server. In the call, Trump mentioned that one of the DNC servers is possibly being held in Ukraine.
‘No Quid Pro Quo’
Earlier, it was expected that Taylor would face questions from House committees leading the impeachment inquiry about a text message where he had called the United States’ withholding of aid to Ukraine “crazy.”
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in a text message on Sept. 9 to Sondland and Kurt Volker, the State Department’s then-special envoy to Ukraine.
In Taylor’s testimony, he noted that Sondland responded about five hours later saying that Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind.”
According to Taylor’s testimony, Sondland told Taylor on Sept. 8 that Zelensky had agreed to make a public statement in an interview with CNN. A Ukrainian official, Alexander Danyliuk, later confirmed to Taylor that there would be no CNN interview, Taylor said.
Volker and Sondland have already testified before the committees. Volker had told lawmakers there was no quid pro quo tying the temporary hold on the military aid to Ukraine and the request by Trump for Ukraine to look into the activities of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
Meanwhile, Sondland told lawmakers that Trump specifically instructed him that there is no quid pro quo related to his request to Ukraine. Sondland also told Congress last week that he was initially unaware that the gas company Burisma was tied to the Bidens.
Ukraine Military Aid Delayed For Two Reasons, Trump Says
Trump previously told reporters that he had blocked the aid to Ukraine because of high levels of corruption and to spur European partners to shoulder a greater share of security assistance.
At an Oct. 2 press conference, Trump said that two factors had prompted the delay of military aid to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is known—before him [prior to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky coming to power]—for tremendous corruption. Tremendous,” Trump said of the first reason. “More than just about any country in the world. In fact, they’re rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And I don’t like giving money to a country that’s that corrupt.”
The second factor, Trump noted, was the relatively low share of the aid burden European countries bear, despite the fact that they benefit from Ukraine serving as a security buffer. “They’re like a wall between Russia and Europe,” Trump said. “They’re like a wall. They’re a big, wide, beautiful wall.”
“How come it’s always the United States that gets ripped?” the president asked, adding: “I don’t like being the sucker country. We were the sucker country for years and years. We’re not the sucker country anymore.”
The Pentagon announced plans in June to send $250 million in aid to Ukraine, but its delivery was delayed. A defense official had said that the Trump administration held up the money to analyze the extent to which Ukraine was addressing long-standing U.S. concerns about corruption. That funding was then released in September.
The State Department also approved a separate $141.5 million in security assistance for Ukraine, including money for what a Ukrainian news outlet said was sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, bringing the total to just over $391 million.
Trump said he released the funds after being urged by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and others.
Ivan Pentchoukov and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.