Washington — The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, said he understood that a delay in military aid to the country was tied to the Ukrainian government's willingness to open investigations into President Trump's political rivals.
Taylorin his testimony on October 22, when he told them that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine had been conditioned on an investigation of anti-corruption investigations, an "irregular" effort led by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.
"That was my clear understanding: security assistance money would not come until the president [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor said under questioning, according to the transcript. Taylor is one of three officials set to testify publicly in the first open hearings before the House Intelligence Committee next week.
Read the full text of Taylor's testimony here
In his testimony, Taylor described a concerted effort to use U.S. leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to commit to opening investigations into debunked allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as the gas company Burisma, which had hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son in 2014. Taylor said these efforts came via an "irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making" consisting of Giuliani, then-special envoy Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland.
He said he became aware of the parallel policy-making paths when working to schedule a phone call with Zelensky in late June. Taylor said Sondland "cut out" other officials who would normally participate in the call and "requested that the call not be transcribed."
"This suggested to me that there were the two channels," Taylor said under questioning. "This suggested to me that the normal channel, where you would have staff on the phone call, was being cut out, and the other channel, of people who were working, again, toward a goal which I supported, which was having a meeting to further U.S.-Ukrainian relations, I supported, but that irregular channel didn't have a respect for or an interest in having the normal staff participate in this call with the head of state."
Taylor also said the irregular channel was confusing for Ukrainian officials.
"In my conversations in the regular channel with President Zelensky and his team, they would, on occasion, express confusion or uncertainty about what direction they were getting from the United States because they were hearing ... directly from Ambassador Sondland who could and would pick up the phone and call President Zelensky," Taylor said about his conversations with Ukrainian officials. "So they were hearing different things from both from those two channels. And that's confusing."
What Sondland told the Ukrainians
In September, Taylor said he spoke by phone with Tim Morrison, an official on the National Security Council, after a bilateral meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw. Morrison relayed what Sondland had told Andriy Yermak, a top Zelensky adviser.
"Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation," Taylor testified. "I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland — Yermak conversation."
Taylor said he wasn't sure whether Sondland spoke with Pence about his conversation with Yermak. Inlast week, Morrison confirmed the conversation, but said he remembered Sondland saying an announcement by the country's top prosecutor, not Zelensky, would suffice.
Sondland initially testified that he did not recall discussing military aid with Yermak, buton Tuesday to say he now recalls briefly raising the issue on the sidelines of the meeting in Warsaw.
Taylor said the phone call with Morrison was the first time he became aware that "security assistance, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on the investigations." The Ukrainians had worked for months to secure a coveted meeting with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, which Giuliani and others used as leverage to pressure the government to announce anti-corruption investigations.
Taylor said he believed the idea for Ukraine to investigate the 2016 election and Burisma originated with Giuliani. Sondland and Volker believed "they had to take a different route through Giuliani" to create a strong relationship with Ukraine, Taylor said.
"I think the origin of the idea to get President Zelensky to say out loud he's going to investigate Burisma and 2016 election, I think the originator, the person who came up with that was Mr. Giuliani," Taylor told the committees, adding that he believed Giuliani was representing the interests of Mr. Trump.
As he became convinced that the delay in aid was tied to an announcement on investigations, Taylor raised the issue directly with Sondland.
In a text message on September 8, Taylor told Sondland "the nightmare" scenario would be if Zelensky gave an interview announcing the opening of investigations and Ukraine did not get security assistance. Taylor said in the text that "the Russians would love it," and he would quit.
"'The nightmare' is the scenario where President Zelensky goes out in public, makes an announcement that he's going to investigate Burisma and the election in 2016, interference in 2016 election, maybe among other things," Taylor explained to lawmakers. "The nightmare was he would mention those two, take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released."
He added that the Russians "are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians," and are leaning on Ukraine economically.
"So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit," Taylor said.
The aid to Ukraine was finally released on September 11.
Taylor also told the committees that he was concerned Zelensky would give an interview announcing the investigations after the aid had been unfrozen, and he told Zelensky in a meeting on September 13 not to get involved in U.S. politics.
"And I had just said to President Zelensky, bipartisan support of Ukraine in Washington is your most valuable strategic asset, don't jeopardize it," Taylor said he told Zelensky. "Don't interfere in our elections and we won't interfere in your elections."