The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor said Gordon Sondland told him President Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly state he would investigate Burisma and the 2016 election in order to provide the Ukrainians with a meeting and security assistance, according to a copy of Taylor’s opening statement obtained by CNN.
“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 and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election,” according to the testimony from earlier today.
Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, told Taylor he’d also made a mistake earlier by telling the Ukrainian officials that a White House meeting with 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,” Taylor testified.
Taylor testified that Trump wanted Zelensky “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering the investigations.
The top diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor testified today that he was told by US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that security aid to Ukraine could have been held up, in part, because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation that could help President Trump politically, according to sources in both parties.
CNN has obtained a copy of his lengthy and detailed opening statement.
In it, Taylor said that he and Sondland spoke by phone about why the aid was frozen, and Sondland cited the need for Ukraine to open an investigation among other reasons, according to the sources.
Sondland told Taylor that the investigations potentially included both Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, the sources said.
We're going through the statement now, and we'll post more details here.
Hear part of Bill Taylor's statement:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today he never had — or at least doesn’t recall having — a conversation with President Trump in which he told the President that his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was perfect.
McConnell was asked about Trump’s assertion, which the President has made publicly many times, at his weekly news conference in the Capitol.
Asked about Trump's remarks, McConnell said, “We’ve not had any conversations on that subject.”
In a follow up question where he was asked if Trump was "lying" when he said McConnell told him the call was perfect, McConnell responded, “You have to ask him. I don’t recall any conversations with the President about that phone call.”
In the past, McConnell’s staff has declined to verify if Trump’s claims were valid.
McConnell would not answer another reporter’s question about the appropriateness of the call.
Asked about Ambassador Bill Taylor’s testimony today, White House officials were quick to point out he was not close to President Trump, and that there were a variety of intervening steps between the President’s direction and what he was told.
One source said he is “an important voice but probably not pivotal.” Sources also acknowledge he has a good reputation as an honest and credible career diplomat.
The White House's view is that they can’t stop lower-level officials from complying to subpoenas at the risk of being held in contempt of Congress and that officials like Taylor will not be fired or reprimanded for testifying in response to a subpoena.
Three lawmakers who are taking part in Ambassador Bill Taylor's closed interview on Capitol Hill today said that Gordon Sondland's testimony was inconsistent with what they heard today. They did not get into specifics.
Here's what they said:
- Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said he thinks Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union "may very well have to come back. He’s got some explaining to do.”
- Republican Rep. Francis Rooney on whether it throws into question Sondland testimony: “Yeah I think there is asymmetry on what we heard today and what Sondland had to say....There were some things that seemed a little at variance here.”
- Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch said there were “inconsistencies” in testimony and “factual assertions.” Speaking about Sondland, Lynch said: “I would be extremely surprised and dumbfounded if Chairman [Adam] Schiff didn’t ask for him to come back."
CNN reported today that Taylor said that in a phone call with Sondland that Sondland cited calls for investigations as a reason why the aid may have been withheld.
Asked about Taylor’s comments, a source familiar with Sondland’s testimony told CNN that Sondland cited, in addition to the investigations, that the aid may have been frozen because of corruption and the Europeans weren’t giving Ukraine enough. He said Sondland was only speculating when he referenced the political investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma — and contended that the testimony was consistent.
A source familiar with conversations President Trump is having with allies tells CNN that the President has been encouraged in recent days to accept the fact that he will almost surely be impeached by the House, and that it is time to start attacking the impeachment process more aggressively.
Until recently, the President had been telling allies that he thought he could keep the House from impeaching him — that he could convince vulnerable Democrats from Trump districts that it would be political suicide for them to vote with the Democratic leadership. He had thought that by beating up on the two dozen or so Democrats from swing districts that he could change their minds, and his own fate in the House.
But CNN is told that several people close to him have been working on him in recent days to explain that it is incredibly unlikely at this point, and that the best he can do is to trivialize the process.
He is also being encouraged to focus rhetorically more on domestic policy issues, like House Democrats moving slowly on US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and the economy. This is not a new refrain from Trump advisers — but it’s even more stark now with the impeachment backdrop.
Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, has responded to President Trump’s use of the word "lynching" to describe the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
Scott said he understands the President’s frustrations, but he wouldn’t use “the word lynching.”
“This is the political version of a death row trial. I get his absolute rejection of the process,” he said.
“I wouldn’t use the word lynching but I would love for the House to take up the unanimous passed legislation from the Senate instead of simply complaining about the President’s use of it," Scott added.
Scott is referring to the Justice for Victims Lynching Act, which he co-sponsored with Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. The bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent in February 2019, but has not been taken up by the House.
Democratic lawmakers are reacting today to acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor's testimony, which is happening right now on Capitol Hill.
Members indicated Taylor's deposition will continue for a while.
Here's what they've said so far:
- Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch: He said Taylor’s testimony "is a sea change." He said Taylor’s testimony could lead the committee to revisit previous witnesses. Lynch would not specify which witnesses he would like to hear from again. He also said Taylor referenced personal notes that he took and that he kept “extensive notes on all of this.” Lynch continued: "I think it could accelerate matters. This will, I think, answer more questions than it raises. Let’s put it that way."
- New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski: He said that Taylor’s testimony has “resolved any remaining doubts I may have.”
- Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly: He said the testimony confirmed what he already believed. He also said that the need for John Bolton’s testimony appears more urgent every day.
The opening statement from Ambassador Bill Taylor took roughly an hour to deliver, according to multiple people in the room. Sources said that the statement was rich with detail.
Democrats described Taylor’s testimony as damning to the President.
“All I have to say is that in my 10 short months in Congress … it’s my most disturbing day in Congress so far,” said Rep. Andy Levin, a freshman Democrat from Michigan.
Republicans, however, downplayed Taylor’s testimony. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, said of Taylor’s testimony there was “nothing new here, I think.”
“We're trying to see if any witness has a connection between foreign aid and pausing the foreign aid. As it relates to the quid pro quo, we haven't had any witness suggest that,” Meadows said.