Bolton thought Trump-Zelensky call would be 'a disaster,' Taylor said: impeachment inquiry latest
WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees have called a slate of high-ranking Trump administration officials for closed-door interviews Wednesday in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary of State for political affairs David Hale are scheduled to appear Wednesday, but Hale is the only witness who has arrived so far.
Hale is the first official scheduled this week who has appeared — breaking a stream of officials who have defied similar requests. The three other witnesses scheduled today are not expected to show up.
House Democrats also released the transcript of Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, on Wednesday. USA TODAY staff will be providing live updates and analysis of the 324-page document. Follow along for live updates.
Taylor concerned with handling of phone call with Zelensky
Taylor recalled he sensed something odd when working with Sondland to set up a phone call with Zelensky in late June. Sondland suggested leaving "most of the regular interagency participants" off the call and "requested that the call not be transcribed."
"This suggested to me that there were the two channels," he told lawmakers. "This suggested to me that the normal 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."
When asked who was excluded from the call, Taylor said he wasn't sure, but that he questioned whether anyone from the State Department, "the normal channel," or the NSC was on the call.
He said he shared his concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who advised him to put it in writing. Taylor said he wrote a memo on the call and submitted it to the State Department. Schiff acknowledged that the memo was among documents Pompeo has refused to hand over in the inquiry.
House Democrats withdraw Kupperman subpoena, likely ending lawsuit over subpoenas
House Democrats withdrew their subpoena Tuesday of deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, asking a court to end the federal court battle between Congress and the executive branch over the ability to compel testimony from witnesses.
Lawyers for the House of Representatives argued the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia should dismiss the lawsuit.
“The subpoena at issue in this matter has been withdrawn and there is no current intention to reissue it. Therefore, this matter is moot and should be dismissed,” the lawyers wrote in a filing Wednesday.
Kupperman filed the lawsuit three days before the subpoena called for him to appear in the impeachment inquiry.
Zelensky 'did not want to be used as a pawn' in the election
Taylor told lawmakers Ukraine's Secretary of National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Danyliuk told him on July 20 that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky "did not want to be used as a pawn in the U.S. re-election campaign."
When asked why Zelensky expressed concerns about his role, Taylor said: "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."
He added Danyliuk believed that "opening those investigations, in particular on Burisma, would have involved Ukraine in the 2020 election campaign. He did not want to do that."
Taylor also testified that it struck him as improper that the U.S. would ask Ukraine to investigate what it perceived to be a violation of Ukrainian law.
"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," he continued. "That's what we have a mutual legal assistance treaty, an MLAT, for. But this is different."
Ukraine was 'desperate' for aid release
A routine video conference call with the National Security Council on July 18 was when Taylor said he learned from a staffer at the White House Office of Management and Budget said “that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine.” The person couldn’t say why there was a hold, but that the directive had come from Trump through Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“I and the others on the call sat in astonishment,” Taylor said. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support.”
The inquiry has summoned Mulvaney for testimony Friday, but the White House said he won’t appear because the administration considers the investigation illegitimate.
Taylor recounted when the Ukrainians became aware the military assistance was being withheld, noting that he was "embarrassed" that he could not provide any guidance for why it was delayed.
He said Yermak and other officials thought if they traveled to Washington they could convey how important the assistance was in their fight against the Russians.
"They thought that there must be some rational reason for this being held up...maybe in Washington they didn't understand how important this assistance was to their fight and to their armed forces," Taylor said. "So they were just desperate."
'We don't do politics here'
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton abruptly ended the July 10 meeting when he heard U.S. officials discussing the potential trade-off. The meeting included Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council; and Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.
“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,” Taylor said. “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 inquiry summoned Bolton to testify Thursday.
Bolton thought July 25 call 'was going to be a disaster'
Bolton "was not interested" in setting up the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 "because he thought it was going to be a disaster," Taylor told lawmakers.
"Turned out he was right," he added.
Taylor said he believed the president's Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney helped schedule the call. House Democrats leading the impeachment investigation on Tuesday called on Mulvaney to testify in the impeachment inquiry Friday. He is unlikely to cooperate with the investigation as he has already ignored a subpoena for White House documents.
Investigators are likely to focus on Mulvaney's on-camera press conference last month in which he appeared to confirm there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He later walked back the comments, saying "there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election."
Bill Taylor transcript:Read the transcript of Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry
'I would quit': the latest from Bill Taylor's testimony
Taylor, a West Point graduate and long-time diplomat, said Russia would have loved the lack of funding for Ukraine, as that country resisted the Russian aggression and the occupation of Crimea.
“The Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians,” Taylor said. “So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit.”
The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday they would call Taylor as the first witness at public hearings on the impeachment inquiry.
Taylor told lawmakers that Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, was a "man of integrity" whom he's known for about two decades. But when pressed on whether Volker always acted in the best interest of the U.S., Taylor said when Volker "got involved with Mr. Giuliani, I think that pulled him away from or it diverted him from being focused on what I thought needed to be focused on."
Taylor feared 'nightmare' Ukraine scenario
Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told the House impeachment inquiry that his “nightmare” Sept. 8 was the prospect that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky would call for a corruption investigation that President Donald Trump demanded, but then still not receive nearly $400 million in military aid that Congress had approved. If that happened, Taylor threatened to quit in texts that were previously released by the inquiry.
“’The nightmare’ is the scenario where President Zelensky goes out in public, makes an announcement that he’s going to investigate Burisma and the election in 2016, interference in 2016 election, maybe among other things,” Taylor said, according to a transcript released Wednesday of his Oct. 22 testimony. “The nightmare was he would mention those two, take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released. That was the nightmare.”
Schiff says Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony will be released today
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the open hearings next week will allow the public to see the evidence and hear from witnesses themselves and "make their own determinations" about the allegations against the president.
"The most important facts are largely not being tested," Schiff said. "We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the President enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent, as well as further conspiracy theories about the 2016 election that he believed would be beneficial to his re-election campaign."
He said later today the panel of three committees conducting the Ukrainian probe – the House Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees – would be releasing the transcript from William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, who told lawmakers that Trump’s allies made it clear that $400 million in military aid was conditioned on opening investigations that could help Trump politically.
House Democrats announce first public impeachment hearings
The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday announced the first set of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, moving the investigation into the public eye for the first time.
The first hearings will be held on Nov. 13 with Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent.
Taylor currently serves as the head American diplomat in Ukraine and previously told congressional investigators behind closed doors that a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as security aid would be conditioned on investigations into Democrats.
Kent, the State Department official overseeing European and Eurasian policy, said he raised red flags within the department about the influence of Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine policymaking.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will testify publicly on Nov. 15.
Yovanovitch, who was dismissed as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine following criticism in conservative media amplified by figures like Donald Trump Jr., told investigators she was told to tweet support for Trump if she wanted to keep her job.
Hale to testify about the dismissal of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch
Hale was expected to discuss the political considerations in dismissing Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and how those decisions affected military aid for Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reports that Hale will testify that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials believed that backing Yovanovitch could hurt efforts to free the military aid, and some officials worried about the reaction from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who according to several witnesses held a key role in U.S. negotiations with Ukraine and pushed for Yovanovitch’s ouster.
GOP lawmakers play defense on Sondland's testimony
As lawmakers funneled into the private room to hear Hale’s testimony, Republicans played damage control for the transcripts of testimony that had been released showing a quid-pro-quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, cast aside the damaging information laid out in European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony, which was released on Tuesday and showed he amended his comments to lawmakers to include that there was a quid-pro-quo in military aid for political investigations sought by Trump and his allies. Instead, Jordan pointed to testimony by Kurt Volker, the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine.
“You all want to make a big deal out of Mr. Sondland’s presumption that he had in his statement yesterday but Mr. Volker’s the one who has, in my mind, the definitive account,” he said.
When asked why he believes Volker over several officials, not just Sondland, who say there was a quid-pro-quo arrangement, Jordan said Volker would be the person to know such information and said he puts his trust in the information already released.
“I trust the call. I trust President Zelensky and President Trump, and I trust the fact that the Ukrainians didn't know that aid had been held and the Ukrainians did nothing to get it released when it was released,” Jordan said. “Those are the fundamental facts.”
Other witnesses likely won't cooperate
Officials from the Energy and State Departments, as well as the White House, previously said they wouldn't cooperate with the impeachment investigation.
"The Secretary will not partake in a secret star chamber inquisition where agency counsel is forbidden to be present," a Department of Energy spokesperson told USA TODAY last week, but added that Perry would consider testifying in a public hearing.
More:Key takeaways from newly released Volker and Sondland transcripts of impeachment testimony
More:Pathway of the impeachment process: How it works, where we are
The hearing comes a day after documents from the testimonies of Ambassadors Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland were released, revealing further details about the withholding of military aid to Ukraine and the pressure campaign on Ukraine's government.
Trump is accused of withholding military aid to Ukraine unless the country committed to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election. An anonymous whistleblower complaint about a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump brought up military aid while urging an investigation into the Bidens sparked the impeachment investigation.
Perry led the American delegation to Ukraine for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration, after Trump had Vice President Mike Pence cancel, according to the whistleblower complaint.
And according to the opening statement of Christopher Anderson, a State Department official, Perry hosted a June 18 meeting on Ukraine policy at the Energy Department where there was discussion of how to address Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's "continued calls for a corruption investigation."
Vought has previously tweeted that he would not participate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already missed document deadlines, said the Department would not comply with the subpoena, and accused House Democrats of harassing department workers by requesting their testimony. Some State Department officials, however, came to testify anyway.
House Democrats subpoenaed Perry in October, but he refused to comply. He has announced his resignation and plans to leave by the end of this year.
Democrats seek Vought's testimony as the head of the White House office allegedly involved in the withholding of security assistance to Ukraine.
Contributing: Bart Jansen, Savannah Behrmann