Excerpts from the Deposition of William B. Taylor by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence joint with the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, October 22, 2019:
[In[ August and September of this year I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was bei g fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons….
Ukraine is, right at this moment, while we sit in this room, and for the last 5 years, under armed attack from Russia; third, the security assistance we provide is crucial to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, and, more importantly, sends a signal to Ukrainians and Russians that we are Ukraine’s reliable strategic partner; and, finally, as the committees are now aware, I said on September 9th, in a message to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy….
Because I was appointed by the Secretary but not reconfirmed by the Senate, my official position was charge d’affaires ad interim. I returned to Kyiv on June 17th carrying the original copy of a letter President Trump signed the day after I met with the Secretary. In that letter, President Trump congratulated President Zelensky on his election victory and invited him to a meeting in the 0val Office….
[Th]ere was an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking with respect to Ukraine, one which included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani . I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland included me in certain conversations….
I had a conversation with the Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and then a conversation with Secretary Pompeo…. I let them know up front going into the meeting that I had not decided whether to accept the offer to go back out to Kyiv because I was troubled by what I was hearing, not just this Giuliani article, but I was troubled by other things as well….And the concern was that the strong support, the policy of strong support for Ukraine, that as I said in my statement, bipartisan, House, Senate, Republicans, Democrats … through, that strong support I was worried could change. And if it did change, I told them both, I couldn’t serve…. I could not be effective if our strong support for Ukraine policy were to change and if we were if for some reason, I couldn’t imagine this would happen, but I was worried that there could be some dramatic change where we would agree with the Russians, that well maybe Crimea is Russian after all, you know, or something like that. And i f that were to happen, and I made this clear to the Secretary and others in the room, I would have to come back, I would have to resign, I would have to leave post.
Desire for Meeting US President and Conditions
Q: And what did Secretary Pompeo say in response to your expression of these concerns?
Taylor: He said that he supported the strong U.S. policy and that he would continue to support that strong U.S. policy, and that he would make this case to President Trump….
Ambassador Volker, and Ambassador Sondland suggested that it would be a good idea for the two Presidents, President Trump and President Zelensky to get together in a meeting…. President Trump didn’t agree, but what he did say was work with Rudy Giuliani, he told the three of them to work with Rudy Giuliani.
Q: Did he say what he wanted them to work with Rudy Giuliani about from your readouts?
Taylor: No, not that I recall….
[Reading text] Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk’s point that President Zelensky is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic reelection politics.
Q: And when you had that conversation with Mr. Danyliuk, what did you understand him to be referring to, when you say Washington domestic reelection politics?
Taylor: I’m sure that was a reference to the investigations that Mr. Giuliani wanted to pursue…
I became less convinced that that meeting was worth what Giuliani was asking. Yes, it would be fine to have the two Presidents talk, but if President Zelensky, in order to get that meeting were going to have to intervene in U.S. domestic policy or politics by investigated - by announcing an investigation that would benefit someone in the United States, then it’s not - it wasn’t clear to me that that would be worth it. That the meeting would be worth it….
So a meeting with President Trump or any President for that matter, but President Trump in the 0val 0ffice doesn’t happen regularly doesn’t happen to very many heads of state. And if you get that, you can be sure or you can think or people might be able to believe that you’ve got a good relationship between the two countries and I think that’s what they were looking for…..
Now, the influence of one particular oligarch over Mr. Zelensky’s of particular concern, and that’s this fellow Kolomoisky, so and Kolomoisky has growing influence. And this is one of the concerns that I have expressed to President Zelensky and his team on several occasions very explicitly, saying that, you know, Mr. President, Kolomoisky was not elected. You were elected and he, Mr. Kolomoisky, is increasing his influence in your government, which could cause you to fail….
The policy that I’ve been aware of has been a general policy of the importance of honest judges, of the selection process for judges, the selection process for prosecutors, the institutions. It has been less a focus individual cases. Individual cases, in my view, is not what U.S. what U.S. foreign policy. What we need to press on is strengthening the institutions in Ukraine, but in other countries as well, so that the population, the society has confidence in it. So it’s more the institution than the specific case….
Q: And one of the folks they put on the board was Hunter Biden, right?
Taylor: That’s my understanding.
Q: Do you think it’s possible that he was tapped for the board because his dad was the Vice President … a reasonable person could perceive conflicts of interest there,
Taylor: Sure…. the short answer is yes, the board membership has been an issue that we’ve paid some attention to….
Q: So isn’t it possible that Trump administration officials might have a good-founded belief, whether true or untrue, that there were forces in the Ukraine that were operating against them?
Taylor: [B]ased on this Politico article, which, again, surprises me, disappoints me because I think it’s a mistake for any diplomat or any government official in one country to interfere in the political life of another country. That’s disappointing….
[Marie Vonavitch] had a sense that there were people who wanted to invest in Ukraine or wanted to sell things to Ukraine that thought that her anticorruption stance was getting in their way….
Work With Rudy
Q: Did you ever have any communications with Mr. Giuliani
I…. didn’t think it was a problem in the beginning. And, actually, it could have been helpful, because Ambassador Sondland is able is able to call the President, and that’s a valuable thing if you want to try to move our U.S.-Ukraine relations along. So, at the beginning, it was not a problem….
And the important point here is none of those, with the exception of Avakov, who is still none of those were in or are in the Zelensky administration. So that’s what as I understand it, that’s what Ambassador Volker, Sondland, Perry were coming back to telt President Trump, that, you know,….
Q: And so the question is, is there a difference between “talk to Rudy” and “work with Rudy?”
Taylor: I don’t know….
Q: And [Avakov] …he’s the guy who said that President Trump, during the 2015 campaign, was I think he referred to him in social media postings as a clown and as worse than a terrorist. Is that accurate?
Taylor: Is that what is that the quote out of this Politico document?….
So the irregular channel, I think under the influence of Mr. Giuliani, wanted to focus on one or two specific cases, irrespective of whether it helped solve the corruption problem, fight the corruption problem….
Excluding Regular Staff on Key Calls
Q: [Reads text message] “I sensed something odd when Ambassador Sondland told me on June 28 that he did not wish to include most of the regular interagency participants i n the call planned with President Zelensky later that day.” Why did you sense something odd about that?
Taylor: He and I were on the phone talking about the timing of this call. This call had been set up. Obviously, when you’re trying to get the head of state on a call, get President Zelensky on a call, you had to work through the timing. Was it convenient? Could he there may have had to be interpreters present. He had to be at the right phone. So we were working on when the meeting would happen. 0n the phone, Ambassador Sondland told me that the timing was going to change, that the time of the phone call was going to change. And I asked him something like, shouldn’t we let everybody else know who’s supposed to be on this call? And the answer was, don’t worry about it. Even his staff, I think, were not aware that the time had changed
Q: And what was odd to you about that?
Taylor: This suggested to me that there were the two channels. This suggested to me that the normal channel, where you would have staff on the phone call, was being cut out, and the other channel, of people who were working, again, toward a goal which I supported, which was having a meeting to further U.S. -Ukrainian relations, I supported, but that irregular channel didn’t have a respect for or an interest in having the normal staff participate in this call with the head of state….
I was still of the view that I was on I was part of a team that might have several parts but we were moving in the same direction….
Mr. Yermak, President Zelensky’s assistant, came back at one point – I think I talk about it in here and asked to nail down a date first and then he would make the statement – he would make the statement of the investigations. You know, Kurt and Ambassador Sondland did not weren’t able to make that offer, weren’t able to nail down the date….
Ukraine’s Need for Security Aid
Security assistance had been very effective. It was weapons, it was training, it was the communications equipment, it was sustainable. It allowed Ukrainian soldiers to actually defend themselves….. That was longstanding policy. Even in the previous administration did not provide all this other – so to stop it, to hold it, for no see, was undercutting what was longstanding US policy….
Q:… Everyone thought that, from the point of view of U.S. national security and our ally fighting the Russians, that security assistance should be resumed without delay.
Taylor: Unanimous opinion of every level of interagency discussion…..
I think it was becoming clear to the Ukrainians that, in order to get this meeting that they wanted, they would have to commit to pursuing these investigations. And Mr. Danyliuk, at least, understood and I’m sure that he briefed President Zelensky, I’m sure they had this conversation believed that opening those investigations, in particular on Burisma, would have involved Ukraine in the 2020 election campaign. He did not want to that….
Disrespect for a Head of State
[Difficult to schedule meetings with National Security Council staff] …I think this was also about the time of Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a lot of energy in the NSC….
It struck me as improper that the United States would be asking if the United States were to ask Ukraine to “investigate an apparent violation of Ukrainian law, that would be improper. If, on the other hand what is proper and what happens frequently is the United States goes to Ukraine and asks for their help to pursue an investigation of violations of American law, of U.S. law. That’s what we have a mutual legal assistance treaty, an NLAT, for. But this is different….
I was embarrassed because the United States, as the principally, the principal supporter for Ukraine, in general, but in particular in its fight with the Russians, was seen to be they found out that we had put a hold on the assistance that would help them fight the Russians. And, at that point, I had nothing to tell them. I mean, the obvious question was, “Why?” So Mr. Yermak and others were trying to figure out why this was….
I’m a representative of the United States Government out there, and he asked me a perfectly legitimate question, why are you holding up this assistance, and I couldn’t tell him….
It’s 1-year money, by the way. If we can make it 2-year money, that would be great. This is a little plug here for 2 -year money. But it was 1-year money. It expired on the 30th of September. And it was late in coming ‘in the fiscal year, and so it had not been obligated…
What Ambassador Sondland was telling me that President Trump wanted, and, again, presumably based on a phone call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump, was that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky. And that struck me to be bad for both, that it would not turn out well for both. But, in answer to your question, Mr. Chairman, that would show disrespect to another head of state. If President Trump is telling you, I want you to go out and publicly say you’re going to do this, that was disrespectful, in my view, to another head of state….
Concern From Senators
When Senator Johnson and Senator Murphy visited, about this time, we had a meeting with the Defense Minister. And it was the first meeting of the day. We went over there. They invited us to a ceremony that they have in front of their ministry every day. Every day, they have this ceremony. And it’s about a half-an-hour ceremony where soldiers in formation, the Defense Minister, families of soldiers who have been killed are there. And the selection of which soldiers are honored, which soldiers who had been kilted are honored, is on the date of it. So whatever today’s date is, you know, if we were there today, on the 22nd of 0ctober, the families of those soldiers who were killed on any 22nd of October in the previous 5 year would be there….
What we can say is that that radar and weapons and sniper rifles, communication, that saves fives. It makes the Ukrainians more effective. It might even shorten the war….
It was a substantial improvement, in that this administration provided Javelin antitank weapons. These are defensive weapons, and they deter, and I believe successfully deter, Russians from trying to grab more territory, to push forward any further tank attack, number one. So there was a military capability. There was also a very strong political message that said that the Americans are willing to provide more than blankets….
Phone Call Disaster and Quid Pro Quo
What I heard from Vindman and Hill was that the first part of that meeting went well. Substantive discussions: security, national security, both sides, energy security. And, apparently, according to them, their boss, John Bolton was appreciating the substance of that meeting. And, in their description, when Ambassador Sondland raised investigations ‘in the meeting, that triggered Ambassador Bolton’s antenna, political antenna, and he said, we don’t do politics here….
The fact is we want we were hoping that it would be resolved, released, decided, reversed, lifted, whatever the verb is, before the Ukrainians heard about it because we didn’t want to be in the position I found myself later on being embarrassed and not be able to say. So we hoped that it would be fixed, and they would never hear about it, and we wouldn’t have to explain….
[Ukrainians] knew that there was a hold [on the aid] on the 29th, and they knew it was lifted on the 11th of September….
“Ambassador Bolton was not interested in having did not want to have the call because he thought it was going to be a disaster. He thought that there could be some talk of investigations or worse on the call. Turned out he was right….
The whole thrust of this irregular channel investigations, which Danyliuk and presumably Zelensky were resisting because they didn’t want to be seen to be interfering but also to be a pawn….
That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President committed to pursue the investigation…
Q: Are you aware that quid pro quo literally means this for that?
Taylor: I am….
Ukrainians Knew Aid Was Blocked
Subsequently, though, did you have conversations with the Ukrainians? I mean, did they become increasingly concerned when the freeze remained in place and they weren’t getting an explanation why, and you had told that them these funds may evaporate completely? A Yes. And they I may have mentioned this already, I can’t remember – they could not understand why it was being held. And they suggested, well, maybe if I just go to Washington and convince the President or convince the Secretary of Defense that this is important that that would do the trick. They were trying to figure out why this was being held….
The only thing I heard was that there was a request and I’m not sure who it came from, but it may have come from the NSC to the Defense Department for an evaluation of the assistance to be sure that it was being well spent and it was effective. And the Defense Department came back very quickly with the conclusion that it was…
So not only had President Zelensky campaigned on rooting out corruption, I believe his number one priority, but he had taken concrete steps. And yet the OMB, the President, still had decided to freeze the aid [opening the High Anti-Corruption Court and amending the Constitution to remove immunity for deputies]….
Number one priority was stopping the war on Ukrainian terms and number two was defeating corruption …
Q: Were you involved in the crafting of this?
Taylor: I was not….
I should have been ‘involved, but I knew that there were a lot of communications between Ambassador Volker preceding and President Zelensky and Yermak preceding my arrival. They had a relationship. And similarly with Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland had a relationship, he told me. I don’t know I think this is true that he could WhatsApp and phone and call President Zelensky. And normally, in a normal arrangement, the ambassador helps either facilitate that or monitors that or is at least aware of that and gets back-briefed on that. I had accepted that this was an unusual circumstance….
“The nightmare” is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it parenthetical (and I quit. )…. So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hands of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit….
And I told the Secretary: If that happens, I’ll come home. You don’t want me out there, because I’m not going to defend it, you know. I would say bad things about it. And you wouldn’t want me out there doing that. So I’m going to come home on that. So that was the message about I quit.
Q: And did you communicate that, these concerns around to Secretary Pompeo or-
Taylor: I had done so on August 29th [by limited distribution cable]….
I imagine that my understanding – my view of this was that, as I said earlier, this was an embarrassment, this freeze on assistance was a mistake, an embarrassment, and it was going to be fixed. And the less said and the less embarrassing i t was….
And walking out of that meeting, Andriy Yermak was about to walk in. And I had just said to President Zelensky, bipartisan support of Ukraine in Washington is your most valuable asset, don’t jeopardize it. And don’t intervene – interfere our elections – and we won’t do the same thing to your elections….
…even after the statement that I heard both times from both recollections, recitations, descriptions of the phone call, after the quid pro quo, there is none, there is none, there is none, then it went on both conversations went on to say: But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016, and President Zelensky should want to do this himself….
Dilemma for Foreign Leaders
Any interference of diplomats or of government officials in an election in another country would concern me….
Senators [Ron Johnson and Chris Murphy] were concerned. The Senators could see that President Zelensky faced a dilemma, and the dilemma was investigate Burisma and 2016 or don’t. And if they investigated, then that would be seen to be interfering on the side of President Trump’s reelection; if they didn’t investigate, that would be seen to be interfering in favor of some of his- of President Trump’s opponent. So they told him: Just don’t get involved, just don’t get involved…. that was spoken by Senator Murphy.
Q: And you agreed with the sentiment expressed by the Senators, correct?
Taylor: I did….
Senator Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that Sondland had described to him a quid pro quo involving a commitment by Kyiv to probe matters related to U.S. elections and the status of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine that the President had ordered to be held up in July….
I understood the reason for investigating Burisma was to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light….
Caring for Ukraine
The emotional piece is based on my time in Ukraine in 2006, 2009, when traveling around the country, I got to know Ukrainians and their frustrations and difficulties and those kind of things. And then coming back and seeing it now where they have the opportunity, they’ve got a young President, a young Prime Minister, a young Parliament, the Prime Minister is 35 years old. This new government has appealed to young people who are so idealistic, protest, pro-United States, pro-Europe, that I feel an emotional attachment, bond, connection to this country and these people…. I cared about this country….
The Russians are very careful observers of Ukraine and the United States, and they would immediately, my bet is they knew. They’re very good. My bet is they knew that there was something up with the security assistance….
I mentioned that Tim Morrison, much more than Fiona Hill, Dr. Hill, was very interested in Chinese investment in Ukraine, continues to today. So our conversations, the vast bulk of the conversations I had with Tim Morrison concerned the Chinese attempts to buy a Ukrainian manufacturer And he has been a – Tim Morrison has been a driving force in Washington to try to prevent that, and we are on the front end of that. And so, you know, I go down to [redacted], and I visit and talk to people who are looking for alternative investors, and Ambassador Bolton, when he was there, and Tim was there for that visit. The main focus of Ambassador Bolton’s visit and conversations with all of these officials that he had in the Ukrainian Government was China. And, again, this was the day before Ukrainians knew that there was even a hold. But it was China and its attempt to buy [redacted material]….
There was some discomfort within the State Department with Ambassador Sondland’s role in Ukraine. 0f course, Ukraine is not in the EU. But it was well-known that, ‘in that famous May 23rd meeting in the 0val 0ffice, that Ambassador Sondland was given direction, with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker, to focus on Ukraine, to do something with regard to Ukraine policy….
[About Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman] I think back in like March or April someone had again, when I was at the Institute of Peace sent me some description of interference in what was this deal in maybe a natural gas I think there was a - I think there was a proposal to sell natural gas to Ukraine. And I think the person who was telling me this referenced these two names, which I didn’t recognize at the time, and I didn’t even register at the time. But now, you know, in the last, you know, now they’re indicted or now they were picked up at then I now recollect that they were mentioned in this previous discussion.
Q: Is it customary for the person at the [National Security Council] to, when the President of the United States has a conversation with someone and the Vice President of the United States has a conversation with someone, is it customary for someone at the NSC to call up the Ambassador and say, “Hey, I just want to let you know what the President said on his call”? A
Taylor: Congressman, my understanding is not unusual…
Q: And the fact that you had three of those in this sort of time period, that’s not unusual?
Taylor: The unusual aspect of that ‘is that there were meetings of the President of the United States with someone having to do with Ukraine in that short period of time.
Free-Lance Investigators for the White House
Q: And by Rudy Giuliani you believe in mid-July, when you reached this conclusion, that Rudy Giuliani wants an investigation into Burisma. Are you believing at all that the President wants an investigation into Burisma or no?
Taylor: I don’t know. What I know is that the direction was coming from Giuliani….
Q: You’re guessing maybe Rudy Giuliani and you’re not sure whether or not it came from the President. Is that what you’re saying?
Taylor: What I’m saying is that I’m describing conversations that I heard. I didn’t hear it from the President. I can’t say what the President was thinking. I can say what Kurt Volker and Ambassador Sondland told me.
Q: Did you have any firsthand knowledge that confirms that the President was conditioning an investigation into Burisma and alleged election Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections with a meeting with President Zelensky?
Taylor: Again, I had no conversations with the President….
Q: And no communication with Rudy Giuliani.
Taylor: There was none with Giuliani, only with Sondland and Volker…
Q: Were there any meetings at that time at the embassy to discuss the [Burisma and 2016 election] case on its merits?
Taylor: What we did at the embassy, as I mentioned, is we are focused on institutions, not on specific cases. We’re looking to fight back against corruption and to help the Ukrainians fight back against corruption by improving their courts and their judicial system. That’s not on individual cases.
Q: If the President believed that looking further into Ukrainian interference in the 20L6 election and Burisma had merit where would he have gone if you aren’t going to even look into it? What other way does he have to look ‘into these two cases?
Taylor: He has a lot of resources, Congressman, as you know. In the Justice Department I think he’s suggested or directed further investigations of 2016 and related things. So he’s got many ways to investigate.
Q: But you weren’t one of those resources? ….
Taylor: Ambassador Sondland on now recognizes that he’d made a mistake telling the Ukrainians that the only the only thing they had to do - only thing they would get if they announced these investigations - was a meeting.
Taylor: That’s correct.
Comfortable With Response
Q: Looking back on these events, would you have handled anything differently in terms of your communications with the seventh floor of the State Department? You sent your cable. You know, you had a couple phone calls with Mr. Brechbuhl. But it doesn’t seem like your concerns penetrated.
Taylor: I don’t think that’s true. I think that, first of all, they shared my concerns. Second of all, they got my cabIe. Third of all, based on the concerns and the cable, Secretary Pompeo went to the White House, probably on a couple of occasions, you know, in trying to have these meetings, and attempted to get the decision changed. So I’m comfortable… with my response…..
This article was posted November 7, 2019.