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Diplomat testifies Trump cared more about investigations of Biden than Ukraine

Posted at 11:45 AM, Nov 13, 2019

The top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told Congress in new testimony Wednesday that President Donald Trump cared more about an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden than he did about Ukraine.

Taylor on Wednesday revealed in his opening statement he'd learned additional information, testifying at the first House impeachment hearing that his staff was told the President's interest in Ukraine was the "investigations of Biden."

Taylor testified that an aide told him of a phone conversation Trump had with US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 26, one day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Taylor's aide, who was accompanying Sondland to meetings in Kiev with Ukrainian officials, could hear Trump asking Sondland about the investigations, Taylor testified. Sondland "told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward," Taylor said.

Taylor testified that his aide later asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine.

"Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which (Trump personal attorney Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for," Taylor said.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, asked Taylor if Sondland's statement meant that Trump cared more about the investigations "than he does about Ukraine?"

"Yes, sir," Taylor responded.

The House is taking a historic step forward Wednesday in its impeachment inquiry of Trump with public hearings that Democrats hope will show the public that the President abused the power of his office to obtain dirt on a potential 2020 rival while withholding vital security aid from Ukraine.

Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent are testifying at the hearing. Both received subpoenas Wednesday to testify, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry, which also were issued before their closed-door depositions last month.

The House announced it had scheduled two new depositions later this week, including David Holmes, an aide to Taylor.

LIVE UPDATES: First public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry

Taylor is one of the most important witnesses for the Democrats impeachment case. He testified behind closed doors last month that he was told Trump held up US security aid and denied a one-on-one meeting with the Ukrainian President unless Ukraine announced an investigation into his political rivals. Taylor said he was told by officials who spoke with the President that Trump wanted Zelensky to "go to a microphone" to announce the investigation.

Taylor explained that Giuliani's efforts led to an "irregular" policy channel with Sondland, former US special envoy Kurt Volker and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, which he said was "running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy."

Kent's testimony also expressed alarm at Giuliani's efforts — which he described last month as a " campaign of lies " — that led to the ouster of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and then the push for investigations.

"In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani's efforts to gin up politically-motivated investigations were now infecting US engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelensky's desire for a White House meeting," Kent said.

Both Taylor and Kent emphasized their careers in public service. Kent defended Yovanovitch and other US diplomats who have come under attack, adding that Giuliani's shadow efforts "hampered US efforts to establish rapport with the new Zelensky administration."

Taylor began his statement by stating that he was not testifying at Wednesday's hearing "to take one side or the other, or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings."

"My sole purpose is to provide facts as I know them about the incidents in question as well as my views about the strategic importance of Ukraine to the United States," Taylor said.

Schiff said in his opening statement that the impeachment inquiry will seek to answer whether Trump invited Ukraine's interference in US elections, whether Trump conditioned a White House meeting and US aid on announcing political investigations and "if President Trump did either, whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the office of the presidency?"

"The matter is as simple, and as terrible as that," Schiff said. "Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their Commander-in-Chief."

A Democratic aide said Taylor and Kent were paired together because they were able to provide the "full timeline" of the President's actions in Ukraine.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, accused Democrats of undertaking a "scorched-earth war against President Trump," saying they were using a "carefully orchestrated media smear campaign" to impeach the President.

"What we will witness today is the theatrical performance," Nunes said.

Before Kent and Taylor began speaking, Republicans expressed their complaints to Schiff about the process of the hearing, pushing for Schiff to issue a subpoena to the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint sparked the Democratic impeachment inquiry.

"You are the only member who knows who that individual is and your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress that has had a chance to talk with that individual," said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who was temporarily added to the Intelligence Committee for the impeachment hearings. "We would like that opportunity. When might that happen in this proceeding today?"

Schiff responded that Jordan's statement was untrue.

"I do not know the identity of the whistleblower and I'm determined to make sure that identity is protected," Schiff said. An aide to Schiff was contacted by the whistleblower before the complaint was filed in July, but Schiff has said he did not learn the whistleblower's identity from his staff.

Republicans are expected try to undercut the Democrats' impeachment case, arguing that both Trump and Zelensky say there was no pressure and the aid money was released without any investigation. Republicans have also argued that Taylor's charges against the President are only based on second- and third-hand information.

The public portion of the impeachment inquiry continues Friday with the testimony of Yovanovitch. The Intelligence Committee has scheduled eight witnesses to appear at public hearings next week.