The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
The top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, just finished his testimony before three House committees today.
He testified for nearly 10 hours on Capitol Hill.
Taylor testified that he had been told President Trump would withheld military aid to the country until it publicly declared investigations would be launched that could help his reelection chances — including into former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a copy of Taylor's opening statement obtained by CNN.
The opening statement from Taylor took roughly an hour to deliver, according to multiple people in the room. Sources said that there were audible sighs and gasps from lawmakers as Taylor delivered his statement.
Bill Taylor, as the US chargé d'affaires in Ukraine, is in a difficult and delicate position testifying today, a source said.
Taylor's view is that he is there to speak to the committee and answer their questions, and he's not looking to issue his own statement publicly.
Other officials who have given testimony and also delivered opening statements were in different positions: Kurt Volker had already resigned and Gordon Sondland, a major Trump donor, was unlikely to be fired by Trump. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified earlier this month, is still a State Department employee but is not currently in an active ambassador role.
Taylor plans to return to Ukraine on Wednesday, the source said. He wants to keep his job, and thinks it is important work.
More about Taylor: A career diplomat, Taylor had to be convinced to take the Ukraine job in the first place, sources familiar with conversations explained. Volker, the former US special envoy for Ukraine, recommended Taylor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the post after Yovanovitch's unexpected removal in the spring. Taylor then met with Pompeo, State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Volker at the department at the end of May.
The conversation focused on US policy towards Ukraine and Pompeo's view of that policy. The secretary of state argued the Trump administration had a robust policy — a position he has taken in numerous interviews — and the elephant in the room — Yovanovitch's ouster — was not extensively addressed, the sources told CNN.
After the meeting, Taylor texted back and forth with Volker, and among other things he asked why Volker would not want to take the job. Volker said he was better off in his current role — covering Ukraine as well as Washington and allies and NATO. Taylor was on the ground in Ukraine, serving as de-facto ambassador, about a month later.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement about Bill Taylor's testimony today.
"Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings," she said in a statement.
Read her full statement:
“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. 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.”
Lawmakers from both parties are raising questions about apparent inconsistencies between closed-door testimony that impeachment investigators have received from US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor.
One source cited two events where Democrats have questions in particular, though there could be additional cases. According to the source, the events are...
- A July 10 meeting about Ukraine
- Sondland’s conversations with President Trump about “no quid pro quo”
Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, told CNN that lawmakers will likely need to reinterview certain witnesses following Bill Taylor's testimony today.
"There is a lot of questions that this brings up and it means more people probably have to come back in and reanswer some questions," he said.
Hurd said President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani also needs to talk to lawmakers about his activity in the region.
"Ultimately there's a question about how diplomacy should be conducted and having an informal channel is not a good way of doing that," he said. "And the question that we're going to be answering here is — does this reach a level of impeachment or is it a disagreement on policy and there is a lot of more questions that need to be answered."
Watch the moment:
CNN Political Director David Chalian takes a look at a new poll indicating that support for impeachment is growing in the latest episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast.
He is also covering:
- President Trump’s approval rating among Republicans
- Partisan polarization
- What impeachment may mean for the President’s reelection chances
- How both parties are trying to protect lawmakers in swing districts, and whether Democrats are in danger of turning off moderates
Chalian is joined by CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny and Mike Shields, CNN political commentator and former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee.
Top US diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor told Congress that former national security adviser John Bolton had expressed concern about a call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to Taylor's opening statement.
“Ambassador Bolton opposed a call between President Zelensky and President Trump out of concern that it would ‘be a disaster,'" Taylor wrote.
Taylor said in August and September, he "became increasingly concerned" about the US' relationship with Ukraine. Taylor wrote that he was concerned that "our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of US policy-making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons."
According to Taylor, Bolton recommended he "send a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo directly, relaying my concerns."
"I wrote and transmitted such a cable on August 29, describing the ‘folly’ I saw in withholding military aid to Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government," Taylor said. "I told the secretary that I could not and would not defend such a policy.”
House committee members gathered for another day of testimony in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Meanwhile, the President spent part of the morning on Twitter.
If you're just catching up, here are four key developments from today so far:
- Top diplomat's testimony: Top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor testified today that the US ambassador to the European Union told him Trump wanted Ukraine's president to publicly state he would investigate Burisma and the 2016 election in order to provide the Ukrainians with a meeting and security assistance. This is according to a copy of Taylor’s opening statement obtained by CNN. Taylor said the ambassador told him "everything" depended on Ukraine announcing investigations.
- Trump's reaction: The President used a racially charged term to describe the House of Representative's impeachment inquiry, calling the process a "lynching" in a tweet today. This marks his first use of the term "lynching" to describe the inquiry — a term deeply intertwined with horrific racial violence and a dark era in the United States.
- Trump allies want him to accept impeachment: The President has been encouraged in recent days to accept the fact that he will almost surely be impeached by the House, a source familiar with conversations Trump is having with allies told CNN.
- The timeline going forward: House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told CNN this morning that Democrats will “take the time we need to take" when it comes to the impeachment inquiry. This was in response to CNN's reporting yesterday about the timeline for the impeachment inquiry looking more drawn out than some had hoped.
Top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor said Gordon Sondland told him President Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly state he would investigate Burisma and the 2016 election in order to provide the Ukrainians with a meeting and security assistance, according to a copy of Taylor’s opening statement obtained by CNN.
“During that phone call 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 US election,” according to the testimony from earlier today.
Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, told Taylor he’d also made a mistake earlier by telling the Ukrainian officials that a White House meeting with Zelensky “was dependent on a public announcement of the investigations.”
"In fact, Ambassador Sondland said ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor testified.
Taylor testified that Trump wanted Zelensky “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering the investigations.