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US Ukraine envoy saw link between military aid, Biden probe, transcript shows

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, left, and then-Ukrainian Minister of Defense Anatoliy Hrytsenko, right, show then-US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates some of the local architecture in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 22, 2007. (Department of Defense/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The leaders of the Democratic-led committees spearheading an impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump have released the transcript of their interview with William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, saying it clearly shows improper behavior by Trump.

House of Representatives committee chairs Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Carolyn Maloney said on November 6 that Taylor’s closed-door testimony painted a clear picture of Trump pressuring Kyiv to investigate his political rivals by withholding military aid and dangling a White House visit for newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“The testimony of Ambassador Taylor…shows how President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and conditioned its release, as well as a vital White House meeting, on the president of Ukraine publicly announcing investigations into debunked conspiracy theories involving” political rivals, the three said in a joint statement.

House Democrats are holding hearings that could lead to the impeachment of Trump over his move to withhold the aid to Ukraine at the same time he was pressing Kyiv to conduct investigations of Democrats and potential 2020 rival Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter.

Democrats say asking a foreign power to target a U.S. political rival represents an abuse of power by Trump, who denies any wrongdoing.

Taylor testified on October 22 in a 10-hour closed-door session as part of the first phase of the impeachment inquiry. The text of his opening statement at that session was previously made public.

The November 6 release consisted of transcripts of Taylor’s question-and-answer session with House lawmakers.

According to the new transcripts, Taylor was asked if aid to Kyiv was contingent upon the Ukrainians holding investigations demanded by Trump.

“That was my clear understanding, security-assistance money would not come until the president [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation,” the transcript read.

Taylor, the charge d’affaires to Ukraine, said Trump wanted his counterpart to publicly announce an investigation into Democrats and the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which was linked to Biden’s son, prior to agreeing to a White House visit for Zelenskiy and before Washington would release the military assistance.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” Taylor said in his opening statement.

Taylor said he understood the reason for investigating Burisma was to cast Biden, the former U.S. vice president, “in a bad light,” according to the latest transcript.

Taylor told lawmakers the demand was being “driven” by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has pushed an unfounded theory that Ukraine interfered in the last U.S. presidential vote.

Schiff earlier announced that Taylor, career department official George Kent, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will appear in public hearings on November 13 and 15 in the next phase of the inquiry.

According to transcripts previously released, Yovanovitch on October 11 testified that Trump applied pressure on the State Department to remove her from her post based on “unfounded and false claims.”

Yovanovitch, a veteran diplomat, was removed from her ambassador post in May, two months ahead of schedule, reportedly over a disagreement with Giuliani.

Kent, a longtime U.S. diplomat who fought corruption in Ukraine and elsewhere, said he raised concerns about efforts by Giuliani to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son

David Hale, the State Department’s third-ranking official, was appearing before House committees on November 6. Democrats are seeking information from Hale on the reasons for Yovanovitch’s removal.