On Tuesday, Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, offered closed-door testimony to lawmakers on Capitol Hill as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. Taylor's name first surfaced in connection with the Ukraine scandal earlier this month, when the House released a series of text messages between him fellow diplomat Gordon Sondland in which Taylor described it as "crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
In a reply several hours later, Sondland asserted that Taylor was "incorrect about President Trump's intentions," and had been "crystal clear" that he wanted "no quid pro quos of any kind"—a denial of Taylor's allegation that the administration had conditioned military aid to Ukraine on whether it would investigate Trump's potential 2020 challenger, Joe Biden. Sondland also suggested that they refrain from exchanging further text messages on the subject.
According to Taylor's written statement, a quid pro quo was, in fact, exactly what Trump had in mind. In the 15-page document, Taylor describes a "weird" months-long ordeal in which he discovered that the administration's policy towards Ukraine was split into two communications channels: a "regular channel" that offered support to Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, and an "irregular channel" spearheaded by Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Over time, Taylor says, the latter channel gained more influence. He recounts a phone call in which Sondland allegedly stated that "President Trump had told him that [Trump] wants President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma," a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Joe Biden's son sat, "and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election." In his retelling of Sondland's communications, he said Trump's goal was to put Zelensky "in a public box," and that "everything"—including Ukraine's receipt of the money—was contingent on Zelensky's willingness to order the probe.
In the most damning passage of Taylor's testimony, he discusses a conversation with National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison, who told Taylor that Trump's position was that he was not asking for any quid pro quo, but "did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference." The next day, Taylor says, Sondland shared that he had relayed this message, telling Zelensky that there was no quid pro quo, but that if Zelensky did not "clear things up," the two countries would be at a "stalemate"—which seems to be the rhetorical equivalent of telling someone it's not a threat but that their legs will get broken if they don't pay shakedown fees.
Trump's apparent objection using the phrase does not change the fundamental nature of the transaction: A demand that Ukraine open a politically-motivated investigation into a rival of President Trump in exchange for financial assistance is a quid pro quo. According to Taylor, Sondland even compared the deal to an explicit cash-for-services transaction in which Trump "paid" for the Biden investigation using congressionally-appropriated, taxpayer-funded military aid.
After hearing Taylor's testimony, Democratic congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts called it a "sea change" in the impeachment process, and "without question the most powerful testimony we've heard." Fellow Democrat Andy Levin, a freshman from Michigan, called it "very troubling, and "his most disturbing day in the Congress so far." Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said it is impossible to "draw any other conclusion, except that the president abused his power and withheld foreign aid," from Taylor's testimony.
Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina, by contrast, professed to be unbothered by what Bill Taylor revealed. "Nothing new here," he said.
Whether it’s Paul Manafort or Hunter Biden and Donald Trump, Ukraine seems to play a disproportionately popular role in our nation’s recent controversies. Julia Ioffe explains why the same small country is increasingly involved in America’s political chaos.
Originally Appeared on GQ