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Public Impeachment Hearing; Bill Taylor Reveals New Details of Events. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AMBASSADOR BILL TAYLOR: -- yes, but it was not an easy decision. Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (ph) has been treated poorly, caught in a web of political machinations, both in Kyiv and in Washington. I fear that those problems were still present. I consulted both my wife and a respected former senior Republican official, who has been a mentor. I will tell you that my wife in no uncertain terms strongly opposed the idea. The mentor counsel, if your country asked you to do something, you do it if you can be effective. I can be effective only if the U.S. policy, a strong support for Ukraine, strong diplomatic support along with robust security, economic and technical assistance were to continue.
And if I have the backing of the secretary of state to implement that policy. And I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudy Giuliani, who had made several controversial statements about Ukraine and U.S. policy toward the country. So during my meeting with Secretary Pompeo on May 28, I made clear to him than the others president -- present that if U.S. policy toward Ukraine changed, he would not want me posted there and I could not stay. He assured me that the policy of strong support for Ukraine would continue that he would support me in defending that policy.
With that understanding, I agreed to go back to Kyiv, because I was appointed by the secretary but not reconfirmed by the Senate, my official position was charge d'affaires (inaudible). In effect, I was the acting ambassador to Ukraine. I returned to Kyiv on June 17, carrying the original copy of a letter President Trump signed the day after I met with the secretary. In that letter, President Trump congratulated President Zelensky on his election victory and invited him to a meeting in the Oval Office. Once I arrived in Kyiv, I discovered a weird combination of encouraging, confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances.
First, the encouraging. President Zelensky was reforming Ukraine in a hurry. He appointed reformist ministers and supported long-stalled anticorruption legislation. He took quick executive action, including opening Ukraine's high anticorruption court. With a new parliamentary majority stemming from snap elections, President Zelensky (R)MD+IN-- (R)MDNM--(R)MD+IN--(R)MDNM--changed the Ukrainian constitution to remove absolute immunity from rotted entities (ph), the source of raw corruption for two decades. The excitement in Kyiv was palpable. This time could be different, a new Ukraine finally breaking from its corrupt post-Soviet past. And yet found a confusing and unusual arrangement for making U.S. policy towards Ukraine. There appeared to be two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular. As the acting ambassador, I had authority over the regular, formal diplomatic processes, including the bulk of the U.S. effort to support Ukraine against Russian invasion and to help it defeat corruption. My colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and our colleagues at the National Security Council were my main points of contact in Washington in this regular channel. This channel is formerly responsible for formulating and overseeing the implementation of U.S. foreign policy with respect to Ukraine, a policy that has consistently enjoyed strong bipartisan support, both in Congress and in all administrations since Ukraine's independence from Russia in 1991.
At the same time, however, I -- I encountered an irregular informal channel of U.S. policymaking with respect to Ukraine. Unaccountable to Congress. A channel that included then-special envoy Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and, as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani. I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland including me in certain conversations. Although this irregular channel was well connected in Washington, it operated mostly outside official State Department channels.
The irregular channel began when Ambassador Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary Perry and Senator Ron Johnson briefed President Trump on May 23, upon their return from President Zelensky's inauguration. The delegation was as enthusiastic as I would soon become about the new Ukrainian president and urged President Trump to meet with him early on to cement the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.
[11:05:00] But from what I understood from the participants, President Trump did not share their enthusiasm for meeting with President Zelensky. When I arrived in Kyiv, the actions of both the regular and the irregular channels of foreign policy appeared to serve the same goal, a strong U.S.-Ukraine partnership.
But it became to me -- it became clear to me by August that the channels had diverged in their objectives. As this occurred, I became increasingly concerned. In late June, both channels were trying to facilitate a visit by President Zelensky to the White House for meeting with President Trump, which President Trump had promised in his congratulatory letter of May 29. The Ukrainians were clearly eager for the meeting to happen. But during my subsequent communications with Ambassadors Volker and Sondland, they relayed to me that the president wanted to hear from Zelensky before scheduling the meeting in the Oval Office. It was not clear to me what this meant.
On June 27, Ambassador Sondland told me during a phone conversation that President Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President Zelensky, was not standing in the way of investigations. I sensed something odd when Ambassador Sondland told me on June 28 that he did not wish to include most of the regular interagency participants in a call planned with President Zelensky later that day. Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker, Secretary -- Secretary Perry and I were on this call, dialing in from different locations. However, Ambassador Sondland said he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelensky to the call.
Also, before President Zelensky joined the call, Ambassador Volker separately told the U.S. participants that he, Ambassador Volker, planned to be explicit with President Zelensky in a one-on-one meeting in Toronto on July 2. In that meeting, Ambassador Volker planned to make clear what President Zelensky should do to get the White House meeting. I did not understand what this meant, but Ambassador Volker said he would relay that President Trump wanted to see rule of law, transparency, but also specifically cooperation on investigations to get to the bottom of things.
Once President Zelensky joined the call, the conversation was focused on energy policy and the war in Donbass. President Zelensky also said he looked forward to the White House visit President Trump had offered his May 29 letter. By mid July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani. In a regular NSC secure video conference call on July 18th, I heard a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine, but could not say why.
For the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call, the person was off-screen, said that she was from OMB and her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending on security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.
I, and others, sat in astonishment. Ukrainians were fighting Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support. All that the OMB staff person said was, that the directive had come from the president to the Chief of Staff to OMB. In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened. The regular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of long-standing U.S. policy.
There followed a series of NSC led interagency meetings, starting at the staff level and quickly reaching the level of cabinet secretaries. At every meeting the unanimous conclusion was that the security assistance should be resumed, the hold lifted.
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.
My understand was that the Secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA Director and the National Security Advisor sought a joint meeting with the president to convince him to release the hold, but such a meeting was hard to schedule and the hold lasted well into September. [11:10:00] On July 9th, in a phone call, with then Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, Fiona Hill, and Director of European Affairs, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman at the NSC, they tried to assure me that they were not aware of any official change in U.S. policy towards Ukraine, OMB's announcement not withstanding. They did confirm that the hold on security assistance for Ukraine came from Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who maintained a skeptical view of Ukraine.
In the same July 19th phone call, they gave me an account of a July 10th meeting with Ukrainian and American officials at the White House. They told me that part way through the meeting, Ambassador Sondland had connected investigations with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelensky, which so irritated then National Security Advisor John Bolton, that he abruptly ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics. He also directed Dr. Hill to brief the lawyers.
Dr. Hill said that Ambassador Bolton referred to this deal as -- this is a drug deal, after the July 10th meeting. Ambassador Bolton opposed a call between President Zelensky and President Trump out of concern that it would be a disaster.
Needless to say, the Ukrainians in the meetings were confused. Ambassador Bolton and the regular Ukraine policy decisions making channel wanted to talk about security, energy and reform. Ambassador Sondland a participant in the irregular channel, wanted to talk about the connection between a White House meeting and Ukrainian investigations.
Also during our July 19th call, Dr. Hill informed me that Ambassador Volker had met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss Ukraine. This caught by surprise. The next day I asked Ambassador Volker but received no response. I began to sense that these two separate decision making channels, the regular and the irregular were separate and at odds.
Later that day I received text messages on a three-way WhatsApp text conversation with Ambassadors Volker and Sondland, a record of which was provided by Ambassador Volker. Mr. Sondland said that call between President Trump and President Zelensky would take place soon.
Ambassador Volker said that what was most important is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation and address any specific personnel issues if there are any. On the next day, July 20th, I had a phone conversation with Ambassador Sondland, while he was on train from Paris to London. Ambassador Sondland told me that he had recommended to President Zelensky that he used the phrase, I will no stone unturned, with regard to investigations when President Zelensky spoke with President Trump.
Also, on July 20th, I had a phone conversation with Alexander (inaudible), President Zelensky's National Security Advisor, who emphasized that President Zelensky did not want to be used as an instrument in a U.S. reelection campaign. The next day I texted both Ambassadors Volker and Sondland about President Zelensky's concern. On July 25th, President Trump and President Zelensky had the long- awaited phone conversation. Even though I was Acting Ambassador and was scheduled to meet with President Zelensky along with Ambassador Volker the following day, I received no read-out of the call from the White House. The Ukrainian government issued a short, cryptic summary.
During a previously planned July 26th meeting, President Zelensky told Ambassador Volker and me that he was happy with the call, but did not elaborate. President Zelensky then asked about the face-to-face meeting as promised in the May 29th letter from President Trump. We could give him no firm answer.
After our meeting with President Zelensky, Ambassador Volker and I traveled to the frontline in Northern Donbass, to receive a briefing from the Commander of Forces on the line of contact. Arriving for the briefing in the military headquarters, the commander thanked us for the security assistance, but I was aware that this assistance was on hold, which made me uncomfortable.
Ambassador Volker and I could see the armed and hostile Russian led forces on the other side of the damaged bridge, across the line of contact. Russian led forces continued to kill Ukrainians in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance.
Although I spent the morning of July 26th with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, the first summary of the July 25th Trump- Zelensky call that I heard from anybody inside the U.S. Government was during a phone call I had with Tim Morrison, Dr. Hill's recent replacement at the NSC on July 28th.
[11:15:00] Mr. Morrison told me that the call could have been better. And that President Trump had suggested that President Zelensky or his staff meet with Mr. Giuliani and President -- and Attorney General William Barr. I did not see any official readout of the call until it was publicly released on September 25th.
By August I was becoming more concerned. On August 16th, I exchanged text messages with Ambassador Volker, in which I learned Andriy Yermak, a Senior Advisor to President Zelensky, has asked that the United States submit an official request for an investigation into Burisma's alleged violations of Ukrainian law if that is what the United States desired.
A formal U.S. request to the Ukrainians to conduct an investigation based on violations of their own law struck me as improper, and I recommended to Ambassador Volker that we stay clear. To find out the legal aspects of the question however, I gave him the name of a Deputy Assistant Attorney General, whom I thought would be the proper point of contact for seeking a U.S. request for a foreign investigation. By mid-August, because the security systems had been held for over a month for no reason that I could discern, I was beginning to fear that the long standing U.S. policy of support for Ukraine was shifting. I called State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl to discuss this on August 21st. He said he was not aware of a change in policy but would check on the status of the security assistance. My concerned deepened the next day on August 22nd during a phone conversation with Mr. Morrison -- I asked him if there had been a change in policy, a strong support for Ukraine, to which he responded, it remains to be seen. He also told me during this call that the president doesn't want to provide any assistance at all. That was extremely troubling (ph) to me as I had told Secretary Pompeo in May, if the policy of strong support for Ukraine were to change, I would have to resign.
Based on my call with Mr. Morrison, I was preparing to do so. Just days later, on August 27th, Ambassador Bolton arrived in Kyiv and met with President Zelensky. During their meeting, security systems was not discussed. As far as I knew, the Ukrainians were not aware of the hold until August 29th. I -- on the other hand was all too aware of and still troubled by the hold.
Near the end of Ambassador Bolton's visit, I asked to meet him privately. During which I expressed to him my serious concern about the withholding of military assistance to Ukraine while the Ukrainians were defending their country from Russian aggression. Ambassador Bolton recommended that I send a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo directly relaying my concerns. I wrote and transmitted such a cable on August 29th 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. The Russians -- as I said at my deposition -- would love to see the humiliation of President Zelensky at the hands of the Americans.
I told the Secretary that could not and would no defend such a policy. Although I receive no specific response, I heard that soon thereafter, the Secretary carried the cable with him to a meeting at the White House focused on security assistance for Ukraine. The same day that I sent my cable to the Secretary, Mr. Yermak contacted me very concerned, asking about the withheld security assistance. The hold that the White House had placed on assistance had just been made public that day in a Politico story.
At that point, I was embarrassed that I could give you no explanation for why it was withheld. It had still not occurred to me that the hold on security assistance could be related to the investigations, that however would change. On September 1st, just three days after my cable to Secretary Pompeo, President Zelensky met Vice President Pence at a bilateral meeting in Warsaw.
President Trump had planned to travel to Warsaw, but at the last minute had canceled because of Hurricane Dorian. Just hours before the Pence Zelensky meeting I contacted Mr. Danyliuk to let him know that the delay of U.S. assistance was an all or nothing proposition in the sense that if the White House did not lift the hold prior to the end of the fiscal year, September 30th, the funds would expire and Ukraine would receive nothing.
I was hopeful that at the bilateral meeting, or shortly thereafter, the White House would lift the hold, but this was not to be. On the evening of September 1st, I received a read out of the Pence Zelensky meeting over the phone from Mr. Morrison, during which he told me that President Zelensky had opening the meeting by immediately asking Vice President about the security cooperation.
[11:20:00] The vice president did not respond subsequently, but said that he would talk to President Trump that night. The Vice President did say that President Trump wanted the European's to do more to support Ukraine and that he wanted the Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption.
During the same phone call with Mr. Morrison, he described a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak in Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. I was alarmed by Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland Yermak conversation, I understand that Mr. Morrison testified at his deposition that Ambassador Sondland proposed it might be sufficient for the Ukrainian prosecutor general to commit to pursue the investigations, as opposed to President Zelensky.
But this was the first time that I had heard that the security assistance, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on the investigations. Very concerned, on that same day, September 1st, I sent Ambassador Sondland a text message asking if we are now saying that the security assistance and the White House meeting are conditioned on investigations. Ambassador Sondland responded asking me to call him, which I did.
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, an alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukrainian officials that only a White House meeting with President 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. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a public box by making a public statement about ordering such investigations. In the same September 1st call, I told Ambassador Sondland that President Trump should have more respect for another head of state and that what he described was not in the interest of either President Trump or President Zelensky.
At that point, I asked Ambassador Sondland to push back on President Trumps demand. Ambassador Sondland pledged to try. I suggested the possibility that Ukrainian prosecutor general, rather than President Zelensky would make a statement about the investigations, potentially in coordination with attorney general Barr's probe into the investigation of interference in the 2016 elections.
The next day, September 2nd, Mr. Morrison called to inform me that Mr. Danyliuk has asked him to come to his hotel in Warsaw. Mr. Danyliuk expressed Presidents Zelensky's concern about the possible loss of U.S. support for Ukraine. In particular, Mr. Morrison relayed to me that the inability of any U.S. officials to respond to the Ukrainians explicit questions about security assistance was troubling them. I was experiencing the same tension in my dealings with the Ukrainians, including a meeting I had had with the defense minister that day. On September 5th I accompanied Senators Johnson and Murphy during their visit to Kyiv. When we met with President Zelensky, his first question to the senators was about the withheld security assistance. My recollection of the meeting is that both senators stressed that bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington was Ukraine's most important strategic asset and that President Zelensky should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn in to U.S. domestic politics.
I had been making and continue to make this point to all of my official Ukrainian contacts, but the odd push to make President Zelensky publicly committed to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani. Two days later, September 7, I had a conversation with Mr. Morrison, in which he described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. Mr. Morrison said that he had a sinking feeling after learning about this conversation from Ambassador Sondland.
According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland he was not asking for a quid pro quo. But President Trump did insist the President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.
[11:25:00] Mr. Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland. The following day on September 8, Ambassador Sondland and I spoke on the phone. He confirmed that he had talked to President Trump, as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant the President Zelensky himself had to clear things up and do it in public.
President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo. I believe this was the same conversation between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump that Mr. Morrison had described to me on September 7. Ambassador Sondland also said that he had talked to President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak and had told them that although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate. I understood a stalemate to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelensky agreeing to make a public statement in an interview on CNN.
Shortly after that call with Ambassador Sondland, I expressed my strong reservations in a text message to Ambassador Sondland, stating that my nightmare is that they, the Ukrainians, give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it and I quit. And I was serious. The next day, September 9, I said to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker that the message to the Ukrainians and the Russians we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold we have already shaken their faith in us. I also said I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Ambassador Sondland responded about five hours later that I was incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind. During our meeting -- during our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland 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, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same language several days later while we were together at the Yalta European 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 domestic political gain was crazy, as I had said in my text message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.
Finally on September 11, I learned that the hold had been lifted and security assistance would be provided. I was not told the reason why the hold had been lifted. The next day I personally conveyed the news to President Zelensky and the Ukrainian foreign minister and I again reminded Mr. Yermak of the high strategic value of bipartisan support for Ukraine and the importance of not getting involved in other countries' elections. My fear at the time was that since Ambassador Sondland had told me President Zelensky had already agreed to do a CNN interview, President Zelensky would make a statement regarding investigations that would have played into domestic U.S. politics.
I sought to confirm through Mr. Danyliuk fthat President Zelensky was not planning to give such an interview to the media. While Mr. Danyliuk initially confirmed that on September 12, I noticed during a meeting on the morning of September 13 at President Zelensky's office that Mr. Yermak looked uncomfortable in response to the question. Again, I asked Mr. Danyliuk to confirm that there would be no CNN interview, which he did. On September 25 at the U.N. General Assembly session in New York City, President Trump met President Zelensky face- to-face. He also released the transcript of the July 25 call.
United States gave the Ukrainians virtually no notice of the release and they were livid. Although this was the first time I had seen the details of President Trump's July 25 call with President Zelensky in which he mentioned Vice President Biden, I had come to understand well before then that investigations was a term Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections and to -- and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens. Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26. While Ambassador Volker and I -- Volker and I visited the front, this member of my staff accompanied Ambassador Sondland.
Ambassador Sondland met with Mr. Yermak. Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him -