The Case of the Curious Gap In Sondland’s v. Taylor’s Ukraine Testimonies.
Today (Tuesday, October 22d) America’s current Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified behind closed doors to the House Committee investigating impeachment. He directly stated that European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him in a September 1 phone call that American military aid to Ukraine was dependent on Ukraine investigating the Bidens. The same occurred in again in a September 8 call between the two. While Taylor’s actual testimony was behind closed doors, these facts were revealed in a lengthy written opening statement that has become public.
Taylor’s statement describes his increasing anxiety regarding the sudden, and unexplained, withholding of what he regarded as vital military aid to a strategic ally in Ukraine. Taylor describes his increasing awareness that it was due to backchannel machinations that included Rudy Giuliani and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Taylor details various contacts he made in late August elevating his concern that the hold had to be released by the end of September or the appropriated money would disappear.
Taylor describes a September 1 phone call with National Security Aid Tim Morrison where Morrison told him that, “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak [an aid to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy] that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.” Burisma is the company that Hunter Biden worked for.
This greatly concerned Taylor who describes it as the first he heard that security assistance for Ukraine was tied to investigations. Taylor was so concerned that he promptly texted Sondland asking if the aid was conditioned on the investigations. Sondland responded by asking Taylor to call him. What Taylor says happened on that call, you should perhaps read for yourself.
To summarize, Sondland told Taylor that “Trump told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election . . . Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such announcement, including security assistance.”
The bombshell nature of this phone call, and Sondland’s direct statement, surprised me because Sondland had already testified on October 17th. While what he said behind closed doors remains unknown, Sondland also had an opening statement released to the public. Recalling no such revelation in his opening statement I looked it up to see what Sondland said about this September 1 call with Taylor.
Sondland, at least in his opening statement, said . . . NOTHING. Not a word about that call. Sondland’s “Key Timeline” of events jumps from July 26th to September 25th with no mention of this September 1 call. Nothing. In the world of Sondland’s opening statement, the call never happened.
Taylor goes on to discuss subsequent communications, first with Morrison again on September 7th and then with Sondland on September 8th and 9th. On September 7th Morrison gets at the quid pro quo denial telling Taylor, “President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.”
On September 8 Taylor spoke to Sondland again who stated that “President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo” but that if Zelenskyy did not make the required statements in public that “we would be at a stalemate.” Taylor stated he “understood ‘stalemate’ to mean Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.” Sondland explained that “Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”
It should be noted that “quid pro quo” simply means “something for something.”
On September 9th Taylor strongly pushed back at Sondland, to include with the now well known text message stating “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” The above certainly makes clear the context of Taylor’s statement and why he was so concerned, and that there was no doubt that at that time security assistance to Ukraine was linked to help for Trump’s political campaign. Something for something.
Sondland got back to Taylor five hours later saying the “President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo.”
In Sondland’s opening statement everything I just discussed, up until the September 9th pushback from Taylor is totally unmentioned. Nothing at all about it. Nothing that provides context to Taylor’s text stating “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Instead, in his opening statement, Sondland picks up, without context, on September 9th stating:
“On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.
I tried hard to address Ambassador Taylor’s concerns because he is a valuable and effective diplomat and I took very seriously the issues he raised. I did not want Ambassador Taylor to leave his post and generate even more turnover in the Ukraine mission. I further encouraged Ambassador Taylor to contact Secretary Pompeo, as I followed up as far as I could go.”
Sondland also concluded his opening statement on October 17th with this statement:
“Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings.”
The sitting U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine quite clearly says Sondland did participate in such undertakings. Sondland will certainly be recalled by Congress to explain this gap in his timeline, lushly filled by Ambassador Taylor.
This time Sondland may wish to invoke a privilege to avoid further testimony. That privilege would be the 5th Amendment.