Saturday, 25 September, 2021; 12:46 am
The top American diplomat in Ukraine identified Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, as the instigator behind the drive to get Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, telling impeachment investigators last month that Mr. Giuliani was acting on behalf of the president.
House Democrats on Wednesday released a transcript of the private testimony by the diplomat, William B. Taylor Jr., as they named him as the first of several witnesses who will testify publicly next week in a slate of impeachment hearings. They will begin laying out a case that Mr. Trump abused his office to secure political favors from Ukraine.
Lawmakers plan to question Mr. Taylor and George P. Kent, a senior American diplomat who oversees policy in the region, during a televised joint session on Wednesday. Then on Friday, they will hear from Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, about her abrupt recall to Washington this spring amid a campaign to smear her as disloyal.
The announcement, after six weeks of fact-finding that largely took place in the Intelligence Committee’s secure chambers, was a sign that Democrats now feel they have assembled a strong enough record to present voters. The hearings will also almost certainly usher in a new, more intense round of partisan warfare as Republicans try to blunt what they see as an existential threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency.
All three witnesses Democrats have called for public testimony have spoken privately with investigators, giving damning accounts of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and of how Ms. Yovanovitch was treated. They have portrayed a president determined to enlist Ukraine in publicly undermining his political rivals, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and to use as leverage a package of military assistance the country badly needed and a White House meeting its new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, coveted.
While the transcript of Mr. Taylor’s testimony did not unearth substantial new information about the Ukraine affair, it made it clear why Democrats have settled on him — a military veteran and nonpartisan career public servant — as their first witness. In it, Mr. Taylor recounted in stark terms how he came to understand that United States policy in Ukraine was subject to a set of politically motivated preconditions that the president was demanding.
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation,” Mr. Taylor said, according to the transcript.
It was the fifth transcript Democrats have released so far. Another, of testimony by Ms. Yovanovitch, laid out how she was targeted by Mr. Giuliani and felt threatened by the president’s disparaging comments about her.
In his testimony, Mr. Taylor singled out Mr. Giuliani as the leader of the effort to get Mr. Zelensky to commit publicly to investigations that Mr. Trump wanted, including one of Burisma, an energy company that employed Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s younger son.
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,” Mr. Taylor said, according to the transcript. But he also conceded that he had never spoken directly with Mr. Trump — a fact Republicans intend to highlight in next week’s hearing.
Democrats were not the only ones racing to position themselves for the inquiry’s new public phase.
A senior administration official said it would add two officials to help draft its public response to the inquiry. The official confirmed that Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, and Tony Sayegh, a former aide to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, would join the staff on a temporary basis.
Democrats gave yet another sign on Wednesday that they would not wait around to try to force noncompliant witnesses like Mr. Bolton to appear. They unexpectedly pulled a subpoena for Mr. Bolton’s deputy, Charles M. Kupperman, informing him that his decision not to show up would just pad a case that Mr. Trump was obstructing Congress’s inquiry.
Mr. Kupperman had filed an unusual lawsuit last month asking a federal judge to determine whether he should listen to Mr. Trump — who ordered him to not cooperate with House investigators — or comply with the subpoena. The panel asked the judge overseeing the suit to dismiss the case, and said it expected Mr. Kupperman to abide by a ruling in a similar case that is expected in the coming days.
Mr. Kupperman’s lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, also represents Mr. Bolton. Democrats have not yet subpoenaed Mr. Bolton to testify. If they do, Mr. Cooper is likely to file a similar suit asking a federal judge to determine whether Mr. Bolton should speak with investigators.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said his panel, which is leading the impeachment inquiry, would soon announce additional hearings and continue to release transcripts of private depositions.
“Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn first hand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” Mr. Schiff told reporters on Wednesday.
Democrats consider Mr. Taylor to be perhaps their best witness.
In an opening statement that became public at the time, Mr. Taylor laid out how he came to understand from others within the administration that the entire American relationship with Ukraine had become dependent on its leaders publicly discrediting Mr. Trump’s political rivals by committing to announcing they were opening investigations into Democrats. He singled out Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, who Mr. Taylor said informed him that Mr. Trump had made a White House meeting with Ukraine’s new president and the delivery of $391 million in security aid for the country contingent on the investigations.
The transcript released on Wednesday fleshed out that story, adding compelling new details. Mr. Taylor testified that Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, had sought a meeting with Mr. Trump this summer to try to persuade him to release the security assistance. But they struggled to find a time to meet for reasons both mundane and bizarre.
“It turns out, Mr. Chairman, that those principals, as we call them, were on different trips at different times,” Mr. Taylor said. “I think this was also about the time of the Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a 1ot of energy in the N.S.C.”
The open sessions will not look like traditional congressional hearings, where Democratic and Republican lawmakers alternate asking questions in five-minute blocks and witnesses can easily steer clear of thorny issues. Instead, trained investigators — some of whom have experience as federal prosecutors — will be given lengthy chances to question and cross-examine the witnesses, allowing for a triallike setting that is likely to yield a more dramatic telling of how the Ukraine affair unfolded.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, is considering swapping in Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and other well-known Trump loyalists for more moderate lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee who are seen as potentially less willing to defend the president’s actions as forcefully. Even though the panel’s Republicans are technically led by Representative Devin Nunes of California, staff aides for Mr. Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, have taken the lead in the private depositions.
After weeks of complaining vociferously about the investigative process itself, Republicans on the front lines of the inquiry are now shifting toward more substantive defenses of Mr. Trump.
Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, argued that even if Mr. Sondland and other officials said security aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine were contingent on investigations Mr. Trump wanted, the quid pro quo was not directed by Mr. Trump.
“When I get to ask questions, and when you see all of the transcripts, you will understand there is no direct linkage to the president of the United States,” Mr. Meadows said.
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