The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testifying on Wednesday in the first televised hearing of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, linked him more directly to a pressure campaign on Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically, Reuters reported.
William Taylor was one of two career diplomats who testified before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee as a crucial new phase began in the impeachment inquiry, which threatens Trump’s presidency even as he seeks re-election in 2020.
Taylor and George Kent testified about the pressure Trump and allies applied to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden over his son’s business dealings in Ukraine, Reuters adds.
Their testimony was calm and forceful, but it was not clear whether it would help Democrats break through a partisan divide and convince more Americans that the Republican president has committed misdeeds worthy of ousting him from office.
In a disclosure that drew the most attention, Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, pointed to Trump’s keen interest in getting the eastern European ally to investigate Biden, a former vice president, and reiterated his understanding that $391 million in U.S. security aid was withheld from Kiev unless it cooperated.
Taylor said a member of his staff overheard a July 26 phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, a former Trump political donor appointed as a senior diplomat, in which Trump asked about those investigations and Sondland told him the Ukrainians were ready to proceed.
After that conversation – which occurred a day after Trump had asked Ukraine’s president during a phone call to conduct the investigations – the staff member asked Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, what Trump thought about Ukraine, Taylor said.
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor testified, referring to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Asked by Adam Schiff, the committee’s Democratic chairman, if that meant Trump cared more about the investigations than about Ukraine, Taylor said: “Yes, sir.”
Taylor, who was appointed by Trump in June, also said withholding military aid from Ukraine, which has been locked in conflict with Russia since Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, undermined U.S. strategic interests.