Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified to the House of Representatives as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Tuesday, and a release of his prepared remarks showed that he has blown the case against the president wide open.
While most of the damning evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing has been public for nearly a month now, Taylor’s account provides revealing details and confirms the most damaging inferences a reasonable observer would have had about the Ukraine scandal.
Here are seven key details in his remarks:
1. There was no explanation for Trump’s delay of military aid to Ukraine. The Defense Department affirmed the need for the aid.
Taylor testified that, as was publicly known, Trump delayed congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine on July 18. But Taylor revealed that no explanation was given for this delay at the time — even to Taylor himself, who was serving as the acting ambassador to this country, which deeply disturbed him.
He even noted this: “At one point, the Defense Department was asked to perform an analysis of the effectiveness of the assistance. Within a day, the Defense Department came back with the determination that the assistance was effective and should be resumed.”
These facts continue to undercut the already deeply implausible claims from Trump and his defenders that the president had legitimate reasons to delay the aid.
2. Taylor had long-running concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s backchanneling of a secondary Ukraine policy.
He said that even before he joined the administration following a May 28 meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudolph Giuliani, who had made several high-profile statements about Ukraine and U.S. policy toward the country.”
As he discovered Giuliani’s deep involvement in diplomacy with the country, he only became more alarmed.
3. Ukrainians were troubled by the lack of aid, and there were lives on the line while Trump held up the assistance.
While much of the discussion of the Ukraine scandal focuses on the important stakes it has for U.S politics, Taylor’s testimony helpfully focused on the costs Trump’s machinations had on the beleaguered American ally.
In defending Trump in the Ukraine scandal, many have claimed that the president’s delay of military aid was not linked to the investigations the president wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to carry out. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney undercut this argument last week by saying that the investigation of the 2016 election was directly tied to the holdup in military aid, though he tried to claim later that he didn’t say what he said. Some have pointed out that, in Trump’s famous call with Zelensky on July 25 — in which the U.S. president explicitly asked for the investigation of 2016 and of Joe Biden — he didn’t explicitly mention the military aid delay, and Ukrainians weren’t aware of the aid at the time.
But Taylor’s testimony makes clear that, eventually, the Ukrainians were aware of the delayed aid as Trump’s demands for investigations continued. On Aug. 29, Taylor was contacted by Andriy Yermak, a Ukrainian official, about the delayed aid, and the ambassador said he was “embarrassed” that he couldn’t explain the hold. He said Yermak was “very concerned.”
Taylor also made clear that the security assistance was a matter of life and death of the Ukrainians.
“Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance,” he said.
4. After it was public that the military aid to Ukraine was delayed, Trump kept pushing for the investigations of his political opponents.
At several subsequent points, Trump and his officials make clear to the Ukrainians that they still want the investigations. These overtures come from Vice President Mike Pence, who was asked about the aid directly by Zelensky and responded by saying “he wanted the Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption,” Taylor explained. This was coded language Trump has used to discuss the investigations.
Taylor also said: “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.” (Burisma is the oil company where Hunter Biden served on the board; Trump has repeatedly claimed that Vice President Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine is therefore corrupt and should be criminally investigated.) Taylor added: “This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance—not just the White House meeting—was conditioned on the investigations.”
5. Trump claimed he wasn’t asking for a quid pro quo — but he demanded Ukraine do what he wanted in order to receive the aid.
Taylor’s testimony makes clear that, even while Trump repeatedly insisted that he wasn’t demanding a quid pro quo from the Ukrainians, his actions revealed that it was exactly what he was asking for. Discussing Trump’s demands of Zelensky, Taylor recounted:
[Ambassador Sondland] said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not “clear things up in public, we would be at a “stalemate.” I understood “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.”
Some will surely continue to argue that Trump’s denial of a quid pro quo is exculpatory. But in fact, it’s the opposite. Because Trump’s actions clearly demonstrate that he’s seeking to arrange a quid pro quo, the fact that he is at the same time denying this obvious reality indicates that he was aware that what he is doing is wrong and was trying to cover it up.
6. Sondland’s defense of Trump is damning.
Ambassador Sondalnd tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta Europena Strategy Conference. I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not “owe” President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for political gain was “crazy,” as I said in my text message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.
This explanation of Trump’s actions actually sounds very plausible — and it confirms he was corruptly acting for his own ends, not for the national interest.
7. Taylor said that the investigations explicitly included the ask for dirt on Biden, including, potentially, in a CNN interview.
Taylor confirms, as has long been denied but has been obvious, that Trump’s pressure on Ukraine tied in directly to his ask for an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent. He said he did not hear the July 25 phone call in which Trump explicitly mentioned the Bidens to Zelensky, but he said, “I had come to understand … 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.”
He also revealed, for the first time, that Zelensky apparently had plans to give an interview to CNN announcing the investigations after meeting with Sondland. This would amount to a de facto campaign ad for the Trump 2020 re-elect. That interview never happened, and the aid was eventually released as it came under increasing scrutiny.
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McCarthy’s Threat Over Jan. 6 Records ‘Meets the Elements’ of Obstruction of Justice: Legal Expert
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy violated ethics rules — and may have broken the law by obstructing justice — on Tuesday when he threatened telecommunications companies that comply with a Select Committee’s request to preserve records relevant to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to CNN legal analyst Norman Eisen.
McCarthy warned the companies — including Apple, AT&T and Verizon — that if the GOP takes back the House in 2022, “a Republican majority will not forget.” He also claimed that complying with the Select Committee’s request would somehow violate federal law. But Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during former president Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, said bluntly Wednesday that “there is no law.”
“This is the equivalent of the proverbial gangster, walking in to a business and saying, ‘Gee, nice telecomm company you have here. It would be a shame if anything happened to it,'” Eisen said of McCarthy’s threat. “It’s the exact opposite, it’s Orwellian. If these telecomm companies fail to comply with the requirement to preserve these records, if they did what Kevin McCarthy wants and refused to turn over the records, that would be a violation of law. So this is absolutely unjustified by law, and it raises serious questions under the House ethics rules and other laws for Kevin McCarthy himself.”
Asked whether McCarthy’s threat constitutes obstruction of justice, Eisen responded: “It meets the elements of obstruction. It’s a threat. It’s an attempt to stop them through that threat, from turning over documents. It’s self-motivated, it’s corrupt, and McCarthy is worried about what may be in those records on him, and on members of his caucus. It’s always a challenge when you have legislative activity — and note that he did this on his official Twitter account — you have protection under the Constitution for legislators, the speech and debate clause, there will be a debate about that.
“The House Ethics Rules .. prohibit any behavior that brings discredit on the House,” Eisen added. “What could be more discreditable than threatening companies that if they comply with the law, they’ll be punished, when McCarthy has the ability to do that? So I think there’s a serious ethics issue, and then legal issues potentially that need to be explored as well.”
Eisen added there is “no question” that McCarthy had a “personal motivation” in issuing the threat.
“We know that his behavior is going to be called into question, and the committee is going to probe his exchanges with the president,” Eisen said. “We know that members of his caucus, like Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Marjorie Taylor Greene, are also in the crosshairs here, and possibly many others. And it’s not just Jan. 6. The committee correctly understands that President Trump’s pattern of incitement and that of his enablers went back for months in illegitimately attacking an unquestioned electoral result and whipping people into a frenzy. So there could be some very embarrassing revelations. Remember that many members of the Republican caucus, with no basis at all, voted against certifying the election results.”
Former US Attorney Reveals He Resigned Rather Than Be Fired for Not Supporting Trump Voter Fraud Lies
The former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta revealed Wednesday he resigned just two weeks before President Donald Trump would leave office, because top DOJ officials told him Trump would fire him for refusing to say he had found widespread voter fraud in Georgia.
Byung Pak had been the U.S. Attorney since mid 2017, and his surprising resignation on January 4 raised eyebrows, and has since initiated a DOJ inspector general investigation into the cause of his sudden departure.
“Mr. Pak, who provided more than three hours of closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee,” The New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon, “testified that top department officials had made clear that Mr. Trump intended to fire him over his refusal to say that the results in Georgia had been undermined by voter fraud, the person said. Resigning would pre-empt a public dismissal.”
The Times adds that Pak “also described work done by state officials and the F.B.I. to vet Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud, and said they had not found evidence to support those allegations.”
This is a breaking news and developing story.
Leaked Kremlin Documents Reveal Putin Holds Blackmail Leverage Over Trump – and That’s Why Russia Backed Him
A leaked document appears to confirm rumors that the Kremlin holds blackmail leverage over former president Donald Trump.
Russian president Vladimir Putin personally authorized a secret spy agency back “mentally unstable” Trump for U.S. president during a Jan. 22, 2016, closed session of that country’s national security council, according to what appears to be leaked Kremlin documents obtained by The Guardian.
“It is acutely necessary to use all possible force to facilitate his [Trump’s] election to the post of U.S. president,” the paper says.
The documents include a brief psychological assessment of Trump as “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex,” and also refer to “certain events” that happened during his previous trips to Moscow.
More details about those events are listed in an appendix to that document, but that portion of the papers remains undisclosed.
Those present agreed that Trump in the White House would help Russia create “social turmoil” in the U.S. and weaken the American presidency, two of Moscow’s top strategic objectives.
A decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature authorized Russia’s three spy agencies to work toward getting Trump elected, as the former reality TV star and celebrity businessman was emerging as the Republican Party’s presidential frontrunner.
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