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Questioning Underway in First Public Impeachment Hearing; Taylor: Sondland Told Me Everything. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00]

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 of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.

At the time I gave my deposition on October 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness. As the committee knows, I reported this information through counsel to the State Department's legal advisor, as well as to counsel for both the majority and the minority of this committee. It is my understanding that the committee is following up on this matter. Mr. Chairman, I recognize that this is rather a lengthy recitation of the events of the past few months told from my vantage point in Kyiv. But I always -- I also recognize the importance of the matters your committee is investigating and I hope that this chronology will provide some framework for your questions.

As I mentioned in my October 22 deposition, the information in quotes in my testimony are based on my best recollection as well as a review of my personal notes. Let me return to the points I made at the outset. Ukraine is important to the security of the United States. The largest country in Europe by landmass, Ukraine is a young democracy struggling to join Europe and ally itself with the United States. It has been violently attacked by Russia, which continues its armed aggression against Ukraine to this day. If we believe in the principle of the sovereignty of nations on which our security and the security of our friends and allies depends. If we believe that nations get to decide on their own economic, political and security alliances we must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor. Russian aggression can not stand. Republican and Democratic administrations over three decades have been generous with assistance funding both civilian and military and political support. With overwhelming bipartisan majorities Congress has imposed harsh sanctions on Russia for invading and occupying Ukraine.

Mr. Chairman, there are two Ukraine stories today. The first is the one we're discussing this morning that you have been hearing about for the past two weeks. It's a (rancorous) story about whistleblowers. Mr. Giuliani side channels, quid pro quos, corruption and interference in elections. In this story, Ukraine is merely an object. But there's another story. A positive bipartisan one. In this second story Ukraine is the subject. This one is about young people in a young nation struggling to break free of it's past. Hopeful that their new government will finally usher in a new Ukraine proud of it's independence from Russia, eager to join western institutions and enjoy a more secure and prosperous life.

This story describes a nation developing in an inclusive democratic nationalism not unlike what we in America in our best moments feel about our diverse country. Less concerned about what language we speak, what religion, if any, we practice, where our parents and grandparents came from. More concerned about building a new country. And I'm now looking forward to your questions.

SCHIFF: I thank you both for your testimony and I now recognize myself and majority counsel for 45 minutes of questions.

MALE: Mr. Chairman ...

SCHIFF: Mr. Taylor, I'd like to begin my following up on something that you have disclosed today you disclosed earlier to both majority and minority but it is some new information for the committee. You said in your testimony that one of your staff was present with Ambassador Sondland on the day after the July 25th phone call. Is that right?

TAYLOR: That's correct Mr. Chairman.

SCHIFF: And as your staff related the event to you, your staff member could overhear Mr. Sondland on the phone, could overhear the President on the phone with Mr. Sondland, is that right?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

SCHIFF: So, the President must have been speaking loud enough on the phone, this was a cell phone I take it?

TAYLOR: It was a cell phone.

SCHIFF: The President must have been speaking loud enough for your staff member to be able to overhear this?

TAYLOR: It was.

SCHIFF: And what you staff member could overhear was President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about "the investigations" is that right?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

[11:35:00]

SCHIFF: I think you testified also that you had come to understand that the term investigations was a term that Ambassador Sondland as well as Volker used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections and to the investigations of Burisma and Biden, is that correct?

TAYLOR: That is correct, Mr. Chairman.

SCHIFF: So your staff member overhears the President asking about the investigations, meaning Burisma and the Biden's in 2016 and Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to mover forward?

TAYLOR: He did.

SCHIFF: And I think you said that after the call when you're asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought of Ukraine his response was that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, is that right?

TAYLOR: And Burisma, yes sir.

SCHIFF: And I take it the import of that is he cares more about that then he does about Ukraine?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

SCHIFF: During our testimony Ambassador Taylor you also said that more Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without US assistance, why is that?

TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, the security assistance that we provide takes many forms. One of the components of that assistance is counter- battery radar. Another component are sniper weapons. There weapons and this assistance it allows the Ukrainian military to deter further incursions by the Russians against their own, against Ukrainian territory. If that further incursion, further aggression were to take place, more Ukrainians would die. So it is a deterrent effect that these weapons provide. It's also the ability, it gives the Ukrainians the ability to negotiate from a position of a little more strength when they negotiate an end to the war in Donbass, negotiating with the Russians. This also is a way that would reduce the number of Ukrainians who would die.

SCHIFF: I take it if the provision of the US Military assistance would save Ukrainians lives that any delay in that assistance my also cost Ukrainian lives. Is that, is that true?

TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman of course it's hard to pro - to draw any direct lines between any particular element of security systems and any particular death on the battlefield. But it is certainly true that that assistance had enabled Ukrainian arm forces to be effective and deter and to be able to take countermeasures to the attacks that the Russians had -

SCHIFF: I think you said that a Ukrainian soldier lost their life while you were visiting Donbass.

TAYLOR: We keep very careful track of the casualties and I noticed on the next day, the information that we got that one was killed four soldiers were wounded on that day.

SCHIFF: And indeed Ukrainians lose their lives every week.

TAYLOR: Every week.

SCHIFF: I think you also testified that Russian was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government. Why is that significant?

TAYLOR: This is significant, Mr. Chairman, because the Ukrainians in particular under this new administration are eager to end this war. And they are eager to end it in a way that the Russians leave their territory. These negotiations like all negotiations are difficult. Ukrainians would like to be able to negotiate from a position of strength or at least more strength that they now have. Part of the strength part of the ability of the Ukrainians to negotiate against the Russians with the Russians for an end to the war on Donbass depends on United States and other international support. If we withdraw or suspend or threaten to withdraw our security assistance that's a message to the Ukrainians but it's at least as important as your question indicates Mr. Chairman.

To the Russians who are looking for any sign of weakness or any sign that we are withdrawing our support for Ukraine.

SCHIFF: And so when the Ukrainians learned of the suspension of the military aid either privately or when others learned publicly the Russians would be learning also. And they would take that as a lack of robust US support for Ukraine. Is that right?

[11:40:10]

TAYLOR: That's correct, sir.

SCHIFF: And that would weaken Ukraine in negotiating an end to the war in Donbass?

TAYLOR: It would.

SCHIFF: People watching I'm sure are interested in how military assistance and diplomatic support for Ukraine affects Ukraine, but even more so interested in how does this affect our national security.

Now I -- I think you said that if we believe in a principle of sovereignty of nations where countries get to determine their own economy, political, and security alliances, we have to support Ukraine in its fight, that the kind of aggression we see by Russia can't stand. How is it important to American national security that we provide for a robust defense of Ukraine's sovereignty?

TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, as -- as my colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent described, we have a national security policy, a national defense policy that identifies Russia and China as adversaries. The Russians are violating all of the rules, treaties, understandings that they committed to that actually kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years. Until they invaded Ukraine in 2014, they had abided by sovereignty of -- of -- sovereignty of nations, of -- of inviolability (ph) of borders. That rule of law, that order that kept the peace in Europe and allowed for prosperity as well as peace in Europe was violated by the Russians, and if we don't push back on that, on those violations, then that will continue.

And that, Mr. Chairman, affects us, it's -- it -- it affects the world that we live in, that our children will grow up in and our grandchildren. This affects the kind of world that we want to -- to see overall (ph). So that affects our national interest very directly.

Ukraine is on the frontline of that -- of that conflict.

SCHIFF: I want to (ph) thank you both for your decades of service to the country, and I will now recognize Mr. Goldman for questioning.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ambassador Taylor, on the heels of your discussing the importance of the security assistance to Ukraine, I want to go to the end of the timeline where you learned that that security assistance was conditioned on Ukraine announcing the investigations that the president wanted. And in particular, on September 9th of this year, you texted Ambassador Sondland and Volker, and the text message should be on the screen in front of you, and if you could read what you wrote?

TAYLOR: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

GOLDMAN: What did you mean when you said you thought it was "crazy"?

TAYLOR: Mr. Goldman, I meant that the important -- because of the importance of security assistance, that we had just described and had a conversation with -- with the chairman, because that was so important, that security assistance was so important for Ukraine as well as our own national interest, to withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign, made no sense. It was -- it was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical, it could not be explained, it was crazy.

GOLDMAN: When you say all of what "we" were trying to do, what do you mean by "we"?

TAYLOR: I mean that the United States was trying to support Ukraine as a frontline state against Russian attack. And again, the -- the whole notion of a rules-based order was being threatened by the Russians in Ukraine. So our security assistance was designed to support Ukraine. That's -- it -- that -- and it was not just the United States. It was all of our -- of our allies.

GOLDMAN: When you reference "help with a political campaign" in this -- in this text message, what did you mean?

TAYLOR: I meant that the investigation of Burisma and the Bidens was clearly identified by Mr. Giuliani in public for months as a way to get information on -- on the -- on the two Bidens.

GOLDMAN: And those -- that investigation at the very least was mentioned by President Trump in the July 25th phone call with President Zelensky? Is that right?

[11:45:00]

TAYLOR: As we now know, yes. I -- yes, on -- on September 25th, that transcript was released.

GOLDMAN: Ambassador Taylor, in your decades of military service and -- and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the President of the United States?

TAYLOR: No, Mr. Goldman, I have not.

GOLDMAN: Mr. Kent, that vital military assistance, that was not the only thing that President Trump was withholding from Ukraine. What else was contingent on Ukraine initiating these investigations?

KENT: Well as we've talked -- earlier today, the possibility of a White House meeting was being held contingent to an announcement.

GOLDMAN: How important to President Zelensky was a White House meeting?

KENT: New leaders, particularly countries that are trying to have good footing in the international arena (ph) see a meeting with the U.S. President in the Oval Office at the White House as a -- as the ultimate sign of endorsement and support from the United States.

GOLDMAN: President Zelensky was a relatively new president, is that right?

KENT: That's correct, he was elected on April 21st and his government was formed after parliamentary elections in July.

GOLDMAN: Would a White House meeting for President Zelensky boost his legitimacy as a new president in Ukraine?

KENT: It would primarily boost his leverage to negotiate with Vladimir Putin about the Russian occupation of 7 percent of Ukrainian territory.

GOLDMAN: Mr. Kent, is -- is pressuring Ukraine to conduct what I believe you've called political investigations a part of U.S. foreign policy to promote the rule of law in Ukraine and around the world?

KENT: It is not.

GOLDMAN: Is it in the national interest of the United States?

KENT: In my opinion, it is not.

GOLDMAN: Why not?

KENT: Because our policies, particularly in promoting the rule of law, are designed to help countries -- and in Eastern Europe and Central Europe, that is overcoming the legacy of communism. In the communist system, in particular the prosecutor general office, was used to suppress and persecute citizens, not promote the rule of law. So in helping these countries reach their own aspirations to join the Western community of nations and live lives of dignity, helping them have the rule of law with strong institutions is the purpose of our policy.

GOLDMAN: So in other words, it is a purpose of our foreign policy to encourage foreign nations to refrain from conducting political investigations, is that right?

KENT: Correct. And, in fact, as a matter of policy, not of programming, we often times raise our concerns, usually in private, with countries that we feel are engaged in selective political prosecution and persecution of their opponents.

GOLDMAN: Ambassador Taylor, now that we've established that you ultimately did understand that President Trump was withholding the securities assistance, and a White House meeting from Ukraine until they announced these investigations to benefit his reelection campaign, let's go back a little bit in time, to when you first learned about this conditionality.

And on September 1st, so a little more that a week before that text we just read, you sent another text to Ambassador Sondland and Volker, which should be -- also be on the screen in front of you, and if you could read what you wrote to them.

TAYLOR: Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?

GOLDMAN: And Ambassador Sondland responded, call me. Now, what information had you learned that prompted you to write this text message?

TAYLOR: I had learned that in Warsaw, after the meeting Vice President Pence had with President Zelensky, Ambassador had had meetings there.

And had described to Mr. Yermak, the assistant to President Zelensky, that the security assistance was also held, pending announcement by President Zelensky in public of these investigations.

[11:50:00]

Before that, I had only understood from Ambassador Sondland that the White House meeting was condition, and at this time, after I heard of this conversation, it struck me -- it was clear to me that security assistance was also being held.

GOLDMAN: You said previously that you were alarmed to learn this. Why were you alarmed?

TAYLOR: It's one thing to try to leverage a meeting in the White House, it's another thing, I thought to leverage security assistance -- security assistance to a country at war, dependent on both the security assistance and the demonstration of support. It was -- it was much more alarming, the White House meeting was one thing, security assistance was much more alarming.

GOLDMAN: Now, Ambassador Taylor, you -- in your opening statement you outlined a very detailed timeline, and in fact, we have a written copy her and you included some phrases and words in quotations. Did you take notes of this conversation on September 1st with Ambassador Sondland?

TAYLOR: I did.

GOLDMAN: And did you take notes related to most of the conversations, if not all of them, that you recited in your opening statement?

TAYLOR: All of them Mr. Goldman.

GOLDMAN: And what -- what are those quotations that you include in your opening statement reflect?

TAYLOR: They reflect my notes on the exact words that I heard on that call. So, it was -- if I put those in quote, that meant that those are the words used on that phone call or in that conversation.

GOLDMAN: Did you review those notes before you drafted your opening statement and came here to testify?

TAYLOR: I did.

GOLDMAN: Now is that how, for example, you remember that Ambassador Sondland was on a train from Paris to London, you know, during a call in July?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

GOLDMAN: And you are aware, I presume, that the State Department has not provided those notes to the Committee, is that right?

TAYLOR: I am aware.

GOLDMAN: So, we don't have the benefit of reviewing them to ask you these questions?

TAYLOR: Correct. I understand that they may be coming, sooner -- sooner or later.

GOLDMAN: Well, we would welcome them. You also testified earlier Ambassador Sondland -- or Ambassador Taylor, that President Trump had delegated some matters overseeing Ukraine policy to Ambassador Sondland, who is a big inaugural supporter of President Trump, even though Ukraine is not in his domain of the European Union, is that right?

TAYLOR: Several members -- several participants in the meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump, with the delegation to the inauguration of President Zelensky, told me of that conversation and it was at that meeting, as I understand it from several participants, that President Trump asked the participants to work with Mr. Giuliani on Ukraine policy. GOLDMAN: Did you come to understand that Ambassador Sondland had a direct line of communication into President Trump?

TAYLOR: I did.

GOLDMAN: And you testified, or rather in that text message, Ambassador Sondland says to call him after you wrote that. Did you, in fact, call him?

TAYLOR: I did.

GOLDMAN: And what did he say to you?

TAYLOR: He said that, I had -- I was wrong about President Trump's intent. That there was no quid pro quo.

GOLDMAN: And -- but did he say anything after that? Did he describe to you, I believe you said, I'll refresh your memory, that --

TAYLOR: Thank you.

GOLDMAN: -- he mentioned something -- in your opening statement you said that he said that everything, I believe -- and you had that in quotes, was actually contingent on the initiation of these investigations. What did he mean by everything?

TAYLOR: Mr. Goldman, what he meant by everything was, the securities assistance and the White House meeting.

GOLDMAN: And I believe you -- you also testified that he said he had made a mistake in relaying a message to the Ukrainians. What was that mistake?

TAYLOR: The mistake he told me was, earlier he had told, presumably President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak, that what was necessary for the White House meeting was the pursuit of these investigations.

[11:55:00] And he said, he recognized that that was a mistake. It was not just the White House meeting that was dependent on the investigations, he said it was now everything. It included the security assistance.

GOLDMAN: So, it was not just the White House meeting, it was also the security assistance?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

GOLDMAN: And so, even though President Trump was saying repeatedly that there is -- there is no quid pro quo, Ambassador Sondland relayed to you that the facts of the matter were that the White House meeting and the security assistance were conditioned on the announcement of these investigations. Is that your understanding?

TAYLOR: That's my understanding.

GOLDMAN: Now, you reference a television interview and a desire for President Trump to put Zelensky in a public box, which you also have in quotes. Was in that your -- your notes?

TAYLOR: It was in my notes.

GOLDMAN: And what did you understand that to mean, to put Zelensky in a public box?

TAYLOR: I understood that to mean that President Trump, through Ambassador Sondland, as asking for President Zelensky to very publicly commit to these investigations. That it was not sufficient to do this in private, that this needed to be a very public statement.

GOLDMAN: And did you understand why it was needed to be in public as opposed to a private conformation?

TAYLOR: I had no further information on that.

GOLDMAN: Now during this time period in early September, did you come to understand that from your conversations with the Ukrainians or other individuals that Ukraine felt pressure to initiate these investigations because of the conditionality of the White House meeting and the security assistance?

TAYLOR: Mr. Goldman, here -- here's what I know. I got several questions -- other officials got several questions as well from Ukrainians asking about the security assistance. So what I know is this security assistance was very important to the Ukrainians, they had begun to hear from Ambassador Sondland that the security systems was not going to come until the investigations were pursed.

What I heard from the defense minister, what the senators -- what Senator Johnson and Senator Murphy heard in their conversation with President Zelensky was the strong -- the clear concern -- the urgent concern that Ukrainians had about the security assistance.

GOLDMAN: Now you also described a conversation that you had with Ambassador Sondland a week later in -- on September 8th and in that conversation in your opening statement you described how Ambassador Sondland used the term stalemate, what did you understand the concern about a stalemate to be?

TAYLOR: Ambassador Sondland said that if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate. He had -- he -- he perm -- he began that again by repeating this is not a quid pro quo, but if the -- if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public we would be at a stalemate, and what I understood for -- and that meaning -- and the meaning of stalemate was the security systems would not come.

GOLDMAN: So even though he said the words there were no quid pro quo, he then went on to say but the security assistance will not come unless these investigations are done, is that what you're saying?

TAYLOR: My understanding that's what was meant by a stalemate.

GOLDMAN: You also described in your opening statement a -- a discussion you had about President Trump being a business man who wanted to have people pay up before signing the check. Now, what is -- what did you understand that to mean?

TAYLOR: This was an explanation that -- that Ambassador Sondland gave me about his understanding of President Trumps thought process. Ambassador Sondland is a business man, and then (ph) Trump's a business man, he was explaining to me the -- the relationship -- the understanding that the -- that the -- a business man would have when he's about to sign a check.

And by that he clearly meant that President Trump was thinking about, or had in front of him the -- the possibility of providing security assistance to Ukraine.

[12:00:00]