As the top US diplomat in Ukraine was working to release frozen security assistance to Kiev, he discovered the focus back in Washington was elsewhere: President Donald Trump’s interest in buying Greenland.
Speaking to impeachment committees last month, Ambassador Bill Taylor described difficulty in convening a meeting of top-level Cabinet officials with Trump to discuss the Ukraine assistance, which was put on hold over the summer.
Part of the issue was logistics, he said. But it also came as national security officials inside the White House were scrambling to contain Trump’s Greenland idea.
“It turns out, Mr. Chairman, that those principals, as we call them, were on different trips at different times,” he said during his closed-door deposition, a transcript of which was released on Wednesday. “I think this was also about the time of the Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a lot of energy in the NSC.”
Trump raised the idea of purchasing Greenland – an autonomous Danish territory – on multiple occasions over the past year. It was first reported in mid-August that he was interested. After the Danish government shot the idea down, Trump canceled a planned trip to Copenhagen.
The complications came at the same time Taylor and multiple other administration officials were working to impress on Trump the importance of the Ukraine aid. Taylor said in his testimony that it was his “clear understanding” that releasing the security assistance was contingent on Ukraine’s President publicly announcing an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.
Taylor described a “unanimous opinion of every level of interagency discussion” that releasing the aid was essential, and said the defense secretary, secretary of state, CIA director and national security adviser all were working to arrange a meeting with Trump to express those views.
“Such a meeting was hard to schedule,” Taylor said.
He described the travel schedules as an impediment to the meeting, and said officials had hoped to raise it at the end of a discussion with Trump about Afghanistan, but did not.
“All to say that there was a strong interest in having this meeting with the President to try to change the position,” he said.
The Greenland matter, he said, was also proving distracting to National Security Council officials.
“That’s disturbing for a whole different reason,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.
“Different story,” Taylor responded, “different story.”