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Questioning Underway in First Public Impeachment Hearing; Amb. Taylor: Our Holding Up Of Security Assistance That Would Go To A Country That Is Fighting Aggression From Russia, For No Good Policy Reason, Is Wrong. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUIGLEY: -- same two investigations President Trump asked Ukrainian president to initiate in the July 25th meeting -- the 25th call?
KENT: It does appear to be the same issues that were mentioned in the call, as well as the media campaign that started in March, led by Rudy Giuliani.
QUIGLEY: Mr. Kent, as the day-to-day State Department point person in Washington on Ukraine policy, were you aware of this effort to persuade President Zelensky to issue a statement in order to get a White House meeting while they were happening?
KENT: When this exchange happened on August 10th, I was not.
QUIGLEY: When did you learn about them?
KENT: As Ambassador Taylor referenced earlier in his testimony, in oral answering, he heard on August 16th. He then called me and we had a conversation. And at that point I had memorialized my concerns in a note to the file.
QUIGLEY: Ambassador Taylor, as the point person on the ground in Ukraine, were you aware of this effort to get Ukraine to issue this written statement in early August?
TAYLOR: Not the written statement, no, sir.
QUIGLEY: So the entire discussion about a public statement about the two investigations President Trump wanted was done in what you have described as an irregular channel involving Ambassador Sondland and Volker, and they tasked to take on Ukraine policy by the president, isn't that correct, Mr. Kent?
KENT: That would be my understanding.
TAYLOR: The same.
QUIGLEY: And if -- I guess to close, a primer on hearsay. I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay. Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances. And it's certainly valid in this instance.
(UNKNOWN): Will gentleman yield? Because none of those exceptions would apply to this testimony.
SCHIFF: It's not the time for colloquy. Mr. -- sorry, Representative Stefanik, you're recognized.
STEFANIK: Thank you.
For the millions of Americans viewing today, the two most important facts are the following. Number one, Ukraine received the aid, number two, there was in fact no investigation into Biden.
Mr. Kent and Ambassador Taylor, you both spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to support Ukraine to counter Russian aggression, particularly during this very critical time. I agree with you in that assessment. And isn't it the case that the Trump administration has indeed provided substantially to Ukraine in the form of defensive lethal aid, correct?
TAYLOR: That is correct.
STEFANIK: And that is more so than the Obama administration, correct?
STEFANIK: Defensive lethal aid.
STEFANIK: And in the transcript of the president's July 25th call with President Zelensky, President Zelensky tells Trump they are ready to buy more Javelins. This is indeed the most effective weapon for fighting insurgent armor, Russian tanks, is that correct?
TAYLOR: That is correct.
STEFANIK: And those Javelins were not made available to Ukraine under the Obama administration? The Javelins were not made available?
TAYLOR: They were not.
Shifting gears to corruption. One of the themes here today is that of rooting out corruption, which is an important tool for the president as we provide taxpayer-funded aid to foreign countries, Mr. Kent, you would characterize Ukraine as having long-standing corruption issues, correct?
KENT: I did.
STEFANIK: And in fact, you testified: "I would say that corruption is part of the reason why Ukrainians came out to the streets in both 2004 when somebody tried to steal the election and again in 2014 because of a corrupt kleptocratic pro-Russian government, which eventually collapsed. The Ukrainians decided enough was enough." Is that your testimony?
KENT: It remains so.
STEFANIK: And you testified that you first came to learn about Burisma in 2015 when you were the senior anti-corruption coordinator, correct?
KENT: Correct. Detailed to the embassy in Kyiv as the acting deputy chief of mission.
STEFANIK: And you testified that the issue of corruption in Burisma was in the U.S. interest because, quote, and this is from your deposition: "We had made a commitment to the Ukrainian government in 2014 to try to recover an estimated tens of billions dollars of stolen assets out of the country." Is that correct?
KENT: That is a -- stolen assets that were in the name of the owner of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky. He was the one who we believed had stolen the money.
STEFANIK: Sure. So the first case -- this was the first case that the U.S., the U.K., and Ukraine investigators worked on was against the owner of Burisma.
KENT: That is correct.
STEFANIK: And this was during the Obama administration.
KENT: That is correct.
STEFANIK: So for the millions of Americans viewing, the first investigation against the owner of Burisma was under President Obama's administration.
KENT: That is correct.
STEFANIK: You testified also, quote: "We spent roughly half a million dollars of State Department money in support of the FBI and this investigation to build capacity and track down stolen assets," end- quote. Is that correct?
KENT: That's correct. It was launched in May 2014 by the attorney general, the U.S. and U.K. in conjunction with the World Bank.
[14:35:00] STEFANIK: And in fact, by 2016, you were so concerned about corruption questions related to Burisma that when there was an effort by Burisma to sponsor an essay contest with USAID, you asked USAID to stop it.
KENT: That's correct. STEFANIK: And you testified that it was because, quote: "Burisma had a poor reputation in the business," and that you didn't think it was appropriate for the U.S. government to be co-sponsoring something with a company that had a bad reputation, correct?
STEFANIK: You were also aware and you testified today that Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma.
STEFANIK: And you also testified that you were indeed concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest.
KENT: That is correct.
STEFANIK: And, broadly, and this is very important, you testify in your deposition that when the State Department evaluates foreign assistance, it is appropriate for them to look at levels of corruption in countries.
KENT: That is correct.
STEFANIK: And lastly, you also testified that - and this is your quote - "issues of corruption have been part of high-level dialogue between U.S. leaders and Ukrainian leaders regardless of who is the U.S. leader and who is the Ukrainian leader and that is a normal issue of diplomatic discussion at the highest level," end quote. Is that correct?
KENT: That's correct.
STEFANIK: I will yield 30 seconds. You know what, I will yield back after that. Thank you.
SCHIFF: Mr. Swalwell?
SWALWELL: Both of you have testified that you are not direct witnesses who have spoken with President Trump, however you are witnesses to a shakedown scheme that others participated in who spoke with President Trump.
However, Ambassador Bolton and Mick Mulvaney both spoke directly to President Trump, and unlike you, they have refused to honor our requests for them to be a part of these proceedings. Nonetheless, we do know how Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney feels about aid because, on October 17 at a press conference, he discussed the hold on security assistance for Ukraine.
Ambassador Taylor, I'd like you to listen to what he said. I'll read it for you. It's in response to a question. "But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is funny (ph) will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens, as well." In response to that question, Mr. Mulvaney said, Mr. Taylor, "we do that all the time with foreign policy." My question, Ambassador Taylor, the President conditioning security assistance on an investigation into his political opponent, prior to this administration, is this something we would do all the time?
TAYLOR: No, sir.
SWALWELL: Why not?
TAYLOR: We condition assistance on issues that will improve our foreign policy, serve our foreign policy, use - insure that taxpayers money is well spent. Those are the - and - and those conditions are either coming from the Congress or from policy decisions, stemming from the authority Congress has given us to make sure that the taxpayers money is well spent or that the receiving company - country takes the - the actions in our national interest.
SWALWELL: And you described in your text message exchanges that engaging in a - a scheme like this is quote "crazy." Can we also agree that it's just wrong?
SWALWELL: Why is it wrong?
TAYLOR: Again, our holding up of security assistance that would go to a country that is fighting aggression from Russia, for no good policy reason, no good substantive reason, no good national security reason, is wrong.
SWALWELL: Mr. Mulvaney, in the same news conference, said quote "if you read the news reports and you believe them, what McKinley said yesterday - well, McKinley said yesterday that he was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy. That was one of the reasons he was so upset about this. And I have news for everybody - get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy."
Ambassador Taylor, should we get over it?
TAYLOR: If we're talking about political influence meaning attempts to get information that is solely useful for political campaigns, if that's what we're - he's talking about, we should not get used to that.
[14:40:00] SWALWELL: Finally, Mr. Mulvaney said "again, I was involved with the process by which the money was held up temporarily, OK? Three issues for that - the corruption of the country, whether or not the countries were participating in the support of Ukraine and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."
Mr. Kent, were you aware of any formal Department of Justice cooperation requests made to the Ukrainians?
KENT: I am not aware that there was any formal Department of Justice request in this matter, no. SWALWELL: Was Mr. Mulvaney's statement false?
KENT: I think you'd refer that question again to the Department of Justice since I don't have full knowledge of whatever they may have been working on.
SWALWELL: Just about an hour before the two of you sat down to testify today, the President tweeted multiple times about this hearing and he put in all caps "Never Trumpers." Mr. Kent, are you a 'Never Trumper?'
KENT: I am a career non-professional who serves whatever President is duly-elected and carries out the foreign policies of that President and the United States and I've done that for 27 years for three Republican presidents and two Democrat presidents.
SWALWELL: Ambassador Taylor, are you a Never Trumper?
TAYLOR: No, sir.
SWALWELL: Ambassador Taylor, finally you said in your statement on Page 19 "Mr. Chairman, there are two Ukrainian stories today. The first is the one we are discussing this morning and that you have been hearing for 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."
Is it also true that in this story, it's about the President of the United States?
TAYLOR: Mr. Swalwell, I'm here at - to tell you what I know and I'm here to tell you what I heard and what I've said and in that regard, I can't answer that question.
SWALWELL: But you're - what you've testified to also involves the President of the United States, is that correct?
TAYLOR: The President of the United States was on the telephone call on the 25th of July, yes sir.
SWALWELL: Thank you, I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Hurd?
HURD: Thank you, Chairman. Gentlemen, I appreciate your all's decade of service. As the fabled foreign service officer Ambassador Ryan Crocker says, because we have pumps and wingtips on the ground, meaning diplomats, that prevents us from having the need to have boots on the ground, military. You all are an important role in our national security and thank you and your colleagues.
Mr. Taylor, my - my first questions are to you - and - and these are questions that are on years prior to your time in the Ukraine but I'm pretty sure you can answer them. Did the Ukrainians get military - get aid in FY17?
TAYLOR: Did they get any aid in FY17?
HURD: Aid, yeah.
TAYLOR: Yes, sir, they - they did get assistance.
HURD: And they got - they got security assistance, as well?
TAYLOR: They did.
HURD: And if I said that number was circa, you know, in military assistance around $270 million, would that probably be accurate?
... about right?
HURD: Did they get aid in FY18?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
HURD: Including security assistance?
TAYLOR: Including security assistance.
HURD: We've already talked about the Javelins, the anti-tank missiles, that they were not able to - to purchase in previous administrations. Have they gotten security assistance in FY19?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
HURD: Prior to the $400,000 - million or so that we're discussing - or have been discussing a lot here today?
TAYLOR: They got some previous year - some - probably FY18 assistance, but George, you may know ...
KENT: It takes a while once money is obligated to actually reach the country. There were two island-class ships (ph) that just arrived in the Port of Odessa and that was with prior year money. So it - there's about a lag of a year - year.
HURD: My point is that we have been supporting the Ukrainians under this administration to - in order to help them kick out the Russians who invaded their country.
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
KENT: 100 percent.
HURD: Ambassador Taylor, earlier you were testifying that Ukrainian officials did not become aware of potential U.S. assistance being withheld until August 29th. Is that accurate?
TAYLOR: That's my understanding, sir. HURD: Would you find it surprising if a Ukrainian official knew about that sooner and did not contact you?
TAYLOR: I can answer that it was only after August 29th, when the political argument -- that I got calls from the -- from several of the Ukrainian officials.
HURD: Good copy.
Mr. Kent, had you had any Ukrainian official contacting you, concerned about -- when was the first time a Ukrainian official contacted you, concerned about potential withholding of U.S. aid?
KENT: It was after the article in Politico came out, in that first intense week of September.
HURD: Gotcha. So after that August 29th conversation.
[14:45:00] There's a lot of talk about Rudy Giuliani and who he was and wasn't meeting. Do we know or have an idea of the Ukrainian officials that he was meeting with over the last couple of years?
TAYLOR: I don't, sir.
HURD: Have you had any Ukrainian officials call you after a meeting with -- with Rudy Giuliani, concerned about the nature or the context of that conversation?
TAYLOR: Yes. Mr. Yermak has expressed concern about his interactions with Mr. Giuliani.
HURD: And I believe that meeting was somewhere in late August, is that correct?
TAYLOR: It was -- there were meetings and there were, I think, also phone calls.
HURD: And y'all have talked many times that y'all are still concerned about corruption in Ukraine, is that correct?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
HURD: Have we seen whatever this anti-corruption statement we wanted the Ukrainians to make?
KENT: Are you referring to the statement that was being negotiated between Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland And Andrey Yermak?
KENT: That was not an anti-corruption statement, sir.
HURD: What was the statement?
KENT: I think if you go back to the back-and-forth, the WhatsApps that were shared by Kurt Volker, they shared a draft with Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani said it would not be acceptable if it didn't mention Biden, Burisma and 2016.
HURD: But that statement was never agreed to or was never issued by the Ukrainian officials, is that correct?
KENT: No statement of that sort was issued, correct.
HURD: And have U.S. businesses ever contacted y'all, concerned about corruption within Ukraine?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
HURD: As -- you know, as of this year, even?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
HURD: Because the concern is not just how Ukrainian businesses run by oligarchs are being operated, it's also concerns about how the Ukrainian government is dealing with American businesses trying to operate in Ukraine, is that accurate?
TAYLOR: American businesses are very concerned about the judicial system in particular, yes, sir.
HURD: I yield back the time I do not have, Mr. Chairman.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentleman.
CASTRO: Thank you, Chairman.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your testimony today and for your service to our country. Listening to all the evidence, everything I've heard and read in this investigation, it seems to me that the president of the United States either committed extortion and bribery of a foreign official, or attempted extortion and bribery of a foreign official.
When President Trump got President Zelensky on the phone on July 25th, he was talking to a desperate man, wasn't he? President Zelensky was desperate to protect his country and make sure that he had foreign assistance from the United States, is that right?
TAYLOR: President Zelensky is very interested in U.S. support both assistance and political support. Yes, sir.
CASTRO: What would have happened if the aid had gotten cut off, Ambassador? What would have happened to President Zelensky's career, and what would have happened in (ph) the Ukraine?
TAYLOR: The assistance -- if the assistance had been cut off, he would have been much weaker in his negotiations with the Russians. He would have been much weaker on the battlefield.
CASTRO: The Russians may have taken it as an invitation to actually take military action against Ukraine, is that right? TAYLOR: The Russians always look for vulnerabilities. And they know that the United States has supported Ukraine. If they -- if the Russians determine or suspect that that support is lessened or not there, they will likely take advantage.
CASTRO: They could have pounced?
TAYLOR: They could have taken advantage.
CASTRO: So he had a desperate man on the phone, and he asked a desperate man for a favor. Based on your testimony, it sounds like, begrudgingly, President Zelensky may have actually agreed to do that favor and investigate the Bidens and Burisma. Is that right?
TAYLOR: President Zelensky does say in the transcript that he will pursue the investigations.
CASTRO: So we know that President Trump asked for a favor to help his political career, and it appears as though the president of the Ukraine agreed to that favor. Do we know why it didn't actually happen? Do we know why there was no announcement in front of CNN or to CNN about an investigation?
TAYLOR: Mr. Castro, as we've determined, as we've discussed here, on September 11th, just before any CNN discussion or interview, the hold was released. The hold on the security assistance was released.
CASTRO: But we don't -- so the hold was released. Is it possible that the White House released that hold because they knew that a whistleblower had basically turned this in?
[14:50:00] TAYLOR: I don't know, sir.
CASTRO: Do you think that's possible?
TAYLOR: I'm not in a position to judge.
CASTRO: So we have a president who the other side has claimed or has defended the president, saying that the aid went through, that there was never any investigation. But the president attempted to get those things done, and it looks like there was an initial agreement by the president of the Ukraine to actually do those things.
So, Ambassadors, is attempted murder a crime? Is attempted murder a crime?
TAYLOR: Attempted murder is a crime.
CASTRO: Is attempted robbery a crime?
TAYLOR: Neither of us is a lawyer, but I suspect...
CASTRO: I think anybody in this room could answer that question.
TAYLOR: I think that's right. And I'll be -- I'll go out on a limb and say yes it is.
CASTRO: Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?
TAYLOR: I don't know, sir.
CASTRO: In the minute that I have left, I want you to speak to the nation about what's at stake, Ambassador Kent. You said in your opening statement, you warned about selective prosecutions and a president of the United States going after specific Americans abroad.
If this Congress clears President Trump, does it mean that he can go ask another foreign country to investigate another presidential candidate, a member of Congress, a governor, a senator or any private American citizen doing business overseas?
If there's no consequence for a president who does that, then it means there's a green light, doesn't it? For any president to ask any country to go prosecute or investigate an American citizen for political and personal gain of that president, doesn't it?
KENT: Thank you for the question. First of all, I'm not an ambassador.
CASTRO: I'm sorry, deputy secretary.
KENT: I will repeat, I think on principal regardless of the country, whether it's Ukraine, the U.S. or any country. The facts of law, criminal nexus should drive investigations by law enforcement officials and it is not the role of politicians to be involved in directing the judicial systems of their own countries or other countries.
MALE: Are you a veteran?
SCHIFF: Mr. Ratcliffe?
RATCLIFFE: Thank the chair. Mr. Kent in your prior deposition on page 159 you were asked about the President's authority to release an ambassador for any reason. And your response was "all ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President and that is without question. Everybody understands that". Do you remember saying that?
KENT: I do and it's true.
RATCLIFFE: President very clearly has that constitutional authority, correct?
KENT: He does.
RATCLIFFE: Okay. Well most everybody apparently understands that. But doesn't include house democrats. In the context of this impeachment inquiry specifically addressing Ambassador Yovanovitch who I know is a friend of yours. In alleging an abuse of power in a nationally televised interview a member of this committee said "It's an abusive power to removed an Ambassador for political reasons because you don't like what they're doing." That's not true is it?
KENT: Yes, I go back to what I said the President has the right to have Ambassadors serve at his pleasure.
RATCLIFFE: Okay. So you agree with me that we shouldn't impeach a President for exercising his constitutional authority?
KENT: I'm here as a fact witness to answer you questions. Your constitutional obligation is to consider the evidence before you.
RATCLIFFE: So, when did Ambassador Yovanovitch get recalled from Ukraine?
KENT: I believe a message was sent on or about April 24th.
RATCLIFFE: Okay. Certainly well before the July 25th call that's in question here, correct?
KENT: Without a doubt.
RATCLIFFE: And she had no remaining responsibilities with respect to Ukraine policy for that three or four month in between I take it?
KENT: She is now a, she was transferred to a teaching slot at Georgetown where her responsibilities among others were to teach a class on Ukraine.
RATCLIFFE: Okay, so if President Trump had the constitutional authority to remove her as he did months before the call and she wasn't in the Ukraine or have any responsibility on July 25th do you have an explanation for why democrats are calling her as a witness on Friday?
KENT: I'm here a fact witness under subpoena and that's a question you could perhaps direct toward your democratic colleagues.
[14:55:00] RATCLIFFE: Ambassador Taylor, we've established that on July 25th both participants in the call both Presidents expressly have stated there was no pressure no demand no conditions no blackmail no corruption. And I ask you again specifically about quid pro quo even being possible and I think we've agreed that it wasn't possible. A quid pro quo involving military aid July 25th given President Zelensky's lack of knowledge, correct?
TAYLOR: President Zelensky to my knowledge did not have any idea that the security systems was on hold.
RATCLIFFE: Okay. So do you have an explanation for why within days of that phone call when no quid pro quo was even possible a person who later became a whistleblower walked into Chairman Schiff's staff to discuss what Chairman Schiff's spokesman, Patrick Boland said were the "outlines of the whistleblowers acquisitions"?
TAYLOR: I'm sorry, what's the question, sir?
RATCLIFFE: The question is do you know or have an explanation for why that person would walk in a few days later to Chairman Schiff's office?
TAYLOR: I do not.
RATCLIFFE: Okay. Earlier Chairman Schiff made reference to a colloquial and for the public a (colloquial) is a way for legislators to clarify an important issue to the public. And so without jeopardizing the whistleblower in any way in an effort to find out Chairman once you knew and when you knew it about the whistleblower I'd like you to engage in a colloquial with me.
SCHIFF: My colleague will address his questions to the witnesses.
RATCLIFFE: I'll take that as a no. You're not interested in a colloquial?
SCHIFF: Mr. Ratcliffe, you can take it anyway you like it but appropriately your questions should be directed to witnesses.
RATCLIFFE: Well, I guess my question to the witness is then is when are house republicans going find out what house democrats already know. We are we going to find out the details of the contact between Chairman Schiff and the whistleblower? What they met about, when they met, the number of times they met. The discussions that were had?
MALE: Mr. Chairman, point of order.
SWALWELL: (inaudible) point of order. The Chairman the gentleman is questioning the chair which is not permitted under the resolution applicable to the hearing or the rules of the house or the committee. The efforts to undermine lawful whistle blowing is more over contrary to the law and practice of this committee. And I would like to also quote Mr. Chairman.
RATCLIFFE: I'm not trying to find out the identity. I'm trying to find out the date that this happened?
SCHIFF: If both gentlemen could suspend. Mr. Ratcliffe has resumed questioning of the witness so I would just recommend we move on.
RATCLIFFE: Chairman pretty simple question. Are we ever going to be able to find our the details in terms.
RATCLIFFE: Not any classified ...
MALE: I reserve my point of order.
SCHIFF: I guess he hasn't resumed his questioning of the witness. Mr. Ratcliffe your time is dwindling I suggest you use it.
RATCLIFFE: I'll yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Heck.
HECK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Kent, some people have suggested that the real reason that President Trump pressure campaign on the Ukraine was to root out corruption in Ukraine. I've gone back and read the memorandum of call tow or three times actually. And I don't recall a single instance where the President ever used the word corruption nor the word corrupt. I know an answer to the Chairman's opening questions you indicated you had gone back and read it about a month ago. Do you recall the President in that July 25th phone call with President Zelensky ever uttering the word corrupt or corruption.
KENT: I don't recall, but it would be a matter of record now that it's been released.
HECK: And as a matter of record, he didn't. But he did manage to find time to mention his potential political rival in 2020. You also answered in response to the question from Mr. Himes that you've been working on the issue of corruption literally for decades. I thank you for that on behalf of the American people. And indeed on October 15th you testified about long standing U.S. policy meant to combat corruption in the Ukraine. Championed by people such as former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. But Mr. Kent is it not true that rather than fighting corruption in general in Ukraine that what President Trump actually did was unceremoniously recall and remove Ambassador Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine.
KENT: I would say first of all as I repeated before the President has the right to recall ambassadors. It remains a matter of policy of the United States towards Ukraine to help them overcome a legacy of corruption in creating new institutions and much of what we've been discussing today, which involved an irregular channel was a request that went against U.S. Policy that would have undermined the rule of law and our long standing policy goals in Ukraine, as in other countries in the post Soviet space.