WASHINGTON – William B. Taylor Jr., the top U.S. official in Ukraine and a key witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, told House investigators about a "nightmare" foreign policy gambit in pursuit of political dirt against Joe Biden that he believed was likely to embolden Russia and how he threatened to resign over it.
House Democrats on Wednesday released a transcript of a closed-door deposition by Taylor, the first witness to provide evidence of a quid pro quo in Trump's dealings with Ukraine. In his testimony, he recounted for lawmakers last month how Trump empowered his attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to open up an unofficial diplomatic channel with Ukraine.
Taylor described how Trump prevented the release of military aid to Ukraine as he used that back channel to prod the country's leaders to publicly announce an investigation of Biden, the former vice president and potential 2020 rival to Trump.
Taylor testified that he learned in September from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that the aid and a White House visit sought by Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, were both "dependent" on a public statement about an investigation. He worried that demand could embarrass Ukraine and further embolden Russia, he testified.
"The Russians want to know how much support the Ukrainians are going to get in general, but also what kind of support from the Americans," Taylor told lawmakers. "So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelenskiy at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit."
Explaining to lawmakers his conversation with Sondland, Taylor said he worried about Ukraine making such a statement to satisfy Trump even without a guarantee that the president would eventually release the aid, which is important to the country's ability to defend itself against incursions by Russia-backed separatists.
The nightmare, Taylor explained, was that Zelenskiy would mention Burisma, the natural gas company where Biden's son Hunter served for five years on the board, "get himself in big trouble in (the U.S.) and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released."
Democrats in the room for Taylor's deposition Oct. 22 said it was remarkably "thorough." The 324-page transcript reveals the detail with which he described key events.