First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry
Asked to explain what he meant in a September 9 text to EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker when he said that withholding Ukraine aid was "crazy" Taylor said:
"I meant that...because of the importance of security assistance, that we had just described and had a conversation with the Chairman, because that was so important that security was so important for Ukraine as well as our own national interests."
"To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense. It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was ill logical. It could not be explained. It was crazy."
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff asked Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, how military assistance and support for Ukraine affects US national security.
"How is it important to American national security that we provide for a robust defense of Ukraine's sovereignty?" He asked.
Here's how Taylor responded:
"We have a national security policy, a national defense policy, that identifies Russia and China as adversaries. The Russians are violating all of the rules, treaties, understandings, that they committed to that actually kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years. That rule of law — that order that kept the peace in Europe and allowed for prosperity as well as peace in Europe was violated by the Russians and if we don't push back on that on those violations, then that will continue."
"And that, Mr. Chairman, affects us. It affects the world that we live in, that our children will grow up in, and our grandchildren," he added.
At the start of the questioning session of diplomat Bill Taylor, chairman Adam Schiff asked Taylor about new information that was just disclosed about a July 26 phone call between EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and one of Taylor's staff members.
"And what your staff member could overhear was President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about quote "the investigations," Is that right?" Schiff asked Taylor.
"That's correct," Taylor responded.
Taylor said during his opening statement that he came to understand that the term "investigations" used by the Trump administration meant matters relating to the 2016 elections and to the investigations of Burisma and the Bidens.
Schiff asked Taylor: "So your staff overhears the President asking about the investigations, meaning Burisma and the Bidens in 2016. And Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward?
"He did," Taylor responded.
Referencing Taylor's opening statement, Schiff asked the diplomat, "And I think you said that after the call when your staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought of Ukraine, his response was that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, is that right?
"And Burisma, yes, sir," Taylor said.
Watch the questioning:
Bill Taylor, one of two diplomats testifying today in the first public hearings of the impeachment investigation, just finished his detailed and lengthy opening remarks.
He is now responding to a question from Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
You can see why Democrats wanted to highlight diplomat Bill Taylor in the first impeachment hearing.
He went through an almost hour-by-hour chronology of what he clearly believes is President Trump’s misconduct in relations with Ukraine.
He’s detailed. He comes across as non-partisan and serious and presents a compelling and legally robust case based on his own thorough personal notes.
Taylor also appeared to link the President deeper than ever before into an alleged conspiracy to use military aid to coerce Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter with some significant new testimony.
And yet, by definition, Taylor’s account lacks a little in theatrics. It matches the gravity of an impeachment hearing. But it may not deliver the instant hit Democrats want with millions of viewers watching on TV. His testimony was tough to follow for anyone who hasn’t been up to speed on this scandal or US-Ukraine relations.
Democratic lawmakers and counsel will have to boil down his testimony into more digestible soundbites with sharp, strategic questions.
Other witnesses who are slated to testify in the House's impeachment inquiry are keeping a close eye on the first public hearings today, multiple people say.
And at least one of them one of them is watching as they work: Two people say Alex Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council who is scheduled to go before lawmakers next week, is at his desk inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building this morning.
He's keeping an eye on the television.
The cameras are focused on the witnesses and committee members who are speaking. But off camera, a number of House members, who aren’t on the House Intelligence Committee, are also sitting in the room to watch the hearing.
Here's who's watching the hearing in the room:
- Democratic Reps. Dean Phillips, Karen Bass, and David Cicilline
- Republicans Reps. Scott Perry, Ted Yoho, Louie Gohmert, and Lee Zeldin
Diplomat Bill Taylor says EU ambassador Gordon Sondland said on a September 1 call that "everything was dependent, including security assistance" on a public announcement by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky of investigations of Burisma and the alleged interference of the 2016 election.
Sondland added, according to Taylor, that President Trump wanted Zelensky "in a public box by making a public statement about ordering such investigations."
Taylor said he responded to Sondland that "President Trump should have more respect for another head of state."
Top diplomat Bill Taylor told lawmakers that there are "two Ukraine stories today."
"The first is the one we are discussing this morning and that you have been hearing for the past two weeks. It is a rancorous story about whistleblowers, Mr. Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption and interference in elections. In this story Ukraine is merely an object," Taylor said.
Taylor continued: "But there is another Ukraine story—a positive, bipartisan one. In this second story, Ukraine is the subject."
He went on to talk about how the young nation is "struggling to break free of its past, hopeful that their new government will finally usher in a new Ukraine, proud of its independence from Russia, eager to join Western institutions and enjoy a more secure and prosperous life."
"This story describes a nation developing an inclusive, democratic nationalism, not unlike what we in America, in our best moments, feel about our diverse country—less concerned about what language we speak, what religion if any we practice, where our parents and grandparents came from; more concerned about building a new country," Taylor said.
Watch the moment: