The White House and Republicans in Congress have spent weeks denying a quid pro quo. Those denials were undercut by text messages between State Department officials and again by last week’s Mick Mulvaney press conference. Those revelations pale in comparison to yesterday’s testimony by President Trump’s second-highest ranking diplomat in Ukraine.
The testimony of the second-in-command of the US embassy in the Ukraine was not open to the public, but Taylor’s opening statement has been released and it appears to be damning. Among the revelations that we know about from Taylor’s testimony, which was under oath, are that:
· President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine even though there was reportedly no change in Ukraine policy
· Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular policy channel was running contrary to goals of longstanding U.S. policy"
· “Everything,” including military aid, was contingent upon Ukrainian President Zelensky making a public statement that “he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference”
· Ambassador to Europe Gordon Sondland allegedly told Taylor, “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.”
As Erick Erickson pointed out, Taylor had pushed for a phone call between Trump and Zelensky, but his testimony indicates that he did not find out about the July 25 phone call until a month after it occurred. The transcript of the call was apparently quickly locked away with even a high-level diplomat such as Taylor not being deemed to have a need to know. This backs up the whistleblower’s claim that the record of the call was secured because the contents were incriminating.
As Erickson also pointed on Twitter, Taylor’s testimony is damning, especially if it can be backed up by both more supporting documents and additional witness testimony. The only real option for the White House is to attack the diplomat’s credibility. But that may be easier said than done.
While he is a career diplomat, Bill Taylor is not someone who can be easily dismissed as a liberal member of the Deep State. A graduate of West Point, Taylor served with the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne during his six years in the army. He served under both Democrats and Republicans in a variety of military and diplomatic roles before being appointed ambassador to Ukraine by George W. Bush in 2006. He served there until 2009 when he was replaced by an Obama appointee. He was subsequently appointed as Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions and vice president of the US Institute of Peace by Obama. Taylor was appointed by President Trump to be the chargé d'affaires, the diplomat who runs the embassy in the ambassador’s absence, in the Ukraine in June 2019.
Bill Taylor’s testimony and the revelations yet to come put Republican senators in a bind. In words that he may quickly live to regret, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has already said that he would consider impeachment if a quid pro quo could be established. Graham has not commented publicly on Taylor’s testimony.
Others, such as the Senate majority leader, seem to be distancing themselves from the president. When asked about Trump’s call with Zelensky, McConnell denied everything, saying, “We've not had any conversations on that subject.” When pressed, McConnell deflected, “You have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the President about that phone call.”
Other Republicans may take up the strategy of former Acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker, who was reduced to telling Fox News that “Abuse of power is not a crime.” That actually depends on how power has been abused.
Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) seems to be taking a similar hear-no-evil tack, telling reporters, “I don't see anything that has advanced, the quid pro quo or the promise of anything with foreign aid. There's no one who can be intellectually honest and come out of that deposition and suggest otherwise."
While the Constitution does not require a criminal act for impeachment, Whitaker’s reasoning may give Republicans enough cover to acquit President Trump in the eventual impeachment trial in the Senate. An acquittal would not get the Republicans out of trouble with voters, however.
Polling has shown a sharp increase in the number of Americans who believe that impeaching President Trump and removing him from office is justified and that number is likely to continue to rise as more revelations about the president’s activities are brought to light. If Trump is acquitted by the Senate, then, given his persistent popularity within the Republican Party, he will be the GOP candidate in 2020.
If Trump is not removed from office, the Republicans will be saddled with an unpopular nominee who they will be forced to admit abused his presidential powers but, according to them, stopped short of criminal behavior, a candidate who half the country believed should have been impeached. Running a candidate who is widely known to be corrupt would be akin to running a candidate who was actively under FBI investigation. It would be setting Republicans up for an electoral disaster.
Originally published on The Resurgent