- Testimony from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, was released by the House on Wednesday.
- In it, Taylor said it was his “clear understanding” that the Trump administration would not give Ukraine the nearly $400 of military aid already approved by Congress unless the country investigated Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden.
- Taylor also detailed the role of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in crafting U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine in a way that was beneficial to Trump.
- Many elements of Taylor’s testimony were corroborated by other testimonies from key witnesses also released publicly this week.
Taylor Testimony Released
The House Intelligence Committee publicly released the full transcript Wednesday of the testimony given by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine.
The career diplomat’s testimony joins the growing list of now-public transcripts from hearings with key witnesses in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The House also announced on Wednesday that it will begin public hearings next week. Taylor is expected to testify in the new wave of hearings, so the transcript of his closed-door testimony is likely to inform what he tells lawmakers next week.
Here are some key takeaways from the more than 300-page transcript of Taylor’s testimony.
Taylor Says “Clear Understanding” of Quid Pro Quo
Many of the most important excerpts from Taylor’s testimony centered around two key questions at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
The first question is: Did the Trump administration ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce that he would investigate Trump’s political opponent Joe Biden in exchange for a meeting with Trump at the White House?
And the second question is: Did the Trump administration withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in order to push Zelensky to investigate Biden?
Taylor addressed both of these questions in his opening statement, which was released a few weeks before the full transcript.
In the statement, Taylor said that U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland had told a top Zelensky aide “that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue” the investigation into Biden.
“This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance — not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations,” Taylor said.
Arguably the most significant line from Taylor’s testimony was in response to a line of questions from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-NY), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Pointing to Taylor’s statement that the White House meeting was “conditioned on the investigations,” Schiff asked Taylor if he was explicitly saying that Ukraine would not get the meeting or the military aid if they did not announce the investigations.
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor responded.
Taylor’s Military Aid Testimony Was Consistent With Others
Notably, Taylor’s testimony about military aid being used for leverage was also supported by several other testimonies released this week.
Taylor’s statement about Sondland and the fact that he was the one who told Zelensky’s aide that the military assistance would be conditioned on the investigation was also confirmed in a testimony by Tim Morrison.
Morrison, a former White House national security adviser, told lawmakers that he was present in the room when Sondland made that statement to Zelensky’s aide.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, also backed up the claim in his testimony.
“Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman said, referring to the Ukranian energy company Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on. “I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”
Sondland had initially contradicted these accounts in his testimony, which was held before the others mentioned above.
But he later changed his testimony in a supplemental statement to the House, where he said Taylor and Morrison’s testimonies “refreshed my recollection about certain conversations.”
He went on to say that he now recalls a conversation on Sept. 1, 2019 with the same Zelensky aide the others referenced, and writing that during that conversation, “I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
Giuliani Had a Huge Role
Another interesting comparison that can be drawn from Taylor and Sondland’s testimonies is the role of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
In his testimony, Sondland said that Trump had basically delegated Giuliani to lead the United States’ foreign policy in Ukraine and directed diplomats and others in the administration to talk to him.
“We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” he said. “Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine.”
“However, based on the President’s direction we were faced with a choice,” he added, continuing to say that they chose to follow Trump’s directions and work with Giuliani.
While Sondland seemed clear that Giuliani was acting on Trump’s directions, Taylor was less sure.
In his opening statement, Taylor said that while it was clear to him the meeting between Trump and Zelensky was conditioned on the investigations: “It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”
When asked by Rep. Schiff, he later elaborated: “The irregular channel seemed to focus on specific issues, specific cases, rather than the regular channel’s focus on institution building. 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.”
Schiff then asked Taylor if he believed Giuliani was doing that because he believed it would benefit his client, President Trump, Taylor replied, “That’s my understanding.”
However, when Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) asked Taylor if he believed the condition was coming from Trump, he said, “I think it was coming from Mr. Giuliani.”
Zeldin followed up asking “But not from the President?” to which Taylor responded, “I don’t know.”
See what others are saying: (Vox) (The Washington Post) (Axios)
Josh Hawley Claims Ethics Complaint Against Him Is “Cancel Culture”
- Seven Democratic Senators filed an ethics complaint against Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz last week over their efforts in leading objections to the certification of the presidential election.
- The group urged the Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into whether Cruz and Hawley’s actions inspired violence or if there were any connections between the two Senators, their staffers, and the insurrectionists.
- Hawley filed a counter-complaint against the seven Democrats Monday, arguing that they were engaging in cancel culture.
- “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together,” he wrote.
Ethics Committee Complaints
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Monday alleging that a group of Democratic senators were engaging in “cancel culture” by calling for a recent investigation into his conduct.
Last week, seven Democratic senators, lead by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), filed an ethics complaint against Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) for leading the objection to the certification of the presidential election
In the complaint, the members accused Hawley and Cruz of legitimizing the false claims that prompted the insurrection in the first place and then continuing to “amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day,” by still voting to object.
The letter also noted that both Cruz and Hawley touted their plan to object to the certification as a way to collect more campaign donations. It argued that they continued to do so while the Capitol was literally under siege and even after the insurrection.
As a result, the seven Democrats urged the Ethics Committee to investigate whether there was any coordination between Hawley, Cruz, or their staffers and the insurrectionists, if they knew about the plans for the Jan. 6 rally, or if they took donations from people and organizations involved.
They also implored the committee to look into whether the actions of the two Senators actions inspired violence or “otherwise engaged in criminal conduct, or unethical or improper behavior.” If any evidence is found, the Democrats recommended the committee take “strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure.”
Hawley Speaks Out
In his counter-complaint, Hawley accused the Democrats of trampling on free speech in an attempt to “cancel” him.
“This line of thinking is, however, sadly consistent with the new woke-mob mentality that you should cancel anyone who disagrees with your views,” he wrote. “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together.”
Hawley also echoed that sentiment in a cover essay published by The New York Post on Monday, where claimed he has been “canceled” and “muzzled” over his attempts to stop the Democratic election of President Joe Biden from being certified.
Both the letter and the article attracted significant backlash online and in the media. In a particularly scathing critique, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon condemned Hawley for claiming he was being censored.
“No one has muzzled Josh Hawley. What happened to Josh Hawley isn’t cancel culture. It’s called consequences,” Lemon said. “That’s how the First Amendment works. Say whatever you want, but you gotta pay the price if you say something stupid, or you do something stupid or treasonous, or if you try to overturn a duly elected president, right?”
“Don’t fall for this, people,” he continued. “Think about the actions in the Capitol. Think about what happened, think about the people who died, think about the cops who were beaten by people. Think about all that.”
Dominion Files $1.3 Billion Defamation Suit Against Rudy Giuliani
- Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company, including that the manufacturer led an effort to flip votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
- The lawsuit alleges Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, spread the disinformation in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast.
- It also links his false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at a rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
- This is the second suit Dominion has filed against a Trump campaign lawyer, and an attorney for the company said it might bring similar cases against pro-Trump media outlets or Trump himself.
Dominion Sues Giuliani
Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company.
Dominion, which is one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., became the main target for widespread election fraud conspiracies spread by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Those individuals falsely claimed with no evidence that Dominion machines, widely used in key battleground states, were flipping votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.
Now, the company claims that Giuliani and his allies “manufactured and disseminated the ‘Big Lie,’ which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election.”
The lawsuit alleges that he did this in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. It notes that Trump’s top lawyer “reportedly demanded $20,000 per day” for his legal services to the president, and arguing that he “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from ‘cyberthieves.’”
The 107-page suit also specifically outlines more than 50 statements Giuliani made on Twitter, his podcast, to the conservative media, and during legislative hearings. Notably, the company points out that he never mentioned Dominion in court where he could face legal ramifications because he knew what he was claiming was false.
Despite that, Giuliani continued to push the false narrative, even after Dominion sent him a letter in December warning they were going to take legal action against him.
The lawsuit also links Giuliani’s false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at the rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
According to reports, even after the insurrection, he has still continued to spread those falsities as recently as last week.
“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and have received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the court document states.
Other Defamation Cases
The case against Giuliani is not the first defamation suit Dominion has brought against Trump allies in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, the company filed a similar claim against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell where it also sought $1.3 billion in damages over her false assertions that Dominion was part of a world-wide communist plot to rig the election.
Separately, one of Dominion’s top executives has also filed lawsuits against Giuliani, the Trump campaign, and several pro-Trump media outlets after he was forced into hiding due to conspiracies that he masterminded the plot to steal the election.
These cases could just be the start. According to NPR, an attorney for Dominion said it was possible that the company would file additional suits against pro-Trump media outlets — such as Fox News — and even potentially Trump himself.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Axios)
House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
- The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
- The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.
- Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.
Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.
The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.
In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.
During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.
“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.”
McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”
While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.
Implications for Power-Sharing Deal
The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.
As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.
The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”
That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.
Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal.
But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.
In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.