Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor plans to fill in the gaps of his text messages with US diplomats about Ukraine that have formed a key part of the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump and Ukraine, according to a source familiar with his testimony.
Taylor, who is testifying before the three House committees leading the Democratic impeachment inquiry, will lay out the reasoning behind his different WhatsApp text messages in his opening statement Tuesday, the source said. Taylor plans to include a chronology of events, according to the source, dating back to June, when Taylor assumed the post as ambassador, through October.
Taylor’s testimony is among the most significant for Democratic impeachment investigators because of text messages he exchanged with US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker about the freezing of US security aid to Ukraine. In the texts, Taylor told Sondland in September: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland responded that Taylor’s assertion was incorrect, a conclusion he reached after speaking directly to Trump.
Taylor will not be bringing any new documents to the committee, he will just be referencing those that have already been made public, the source said. Volker, who is no longer at the State Department, provided the texts to Congress. Other witnesses who have appeared, including Sondland, have been prevented by the State Department from providing documents.
Taylor is appearing behind closed doors before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees as part of the Democratic impeachment inquiry fueled by whistleblower allegations that Trump solicited foreign election interference from Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 political opponent.
The witnesses who have appeared so far have said that the President directed his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to take the lead on US-Ukraine policy as Giuliani was pushing for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Taylor, as the current acting ambassador to Ukraine, is in a difficult and delicate position testifying Tuesday, the source said. Taylor’s view is that he is there to speak to committee and answer their questions, and he’s not looking to issue his own statement publicly.
Other officials who have given testimony and also delivered opening statements were in different positions: Volker had already resigned and Sondland, a major Trump donor, was unlikely to be fired by Trump. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified earlier this month, is still a State Department employee but is not currently in an active ambassador role.
Taylor plans to return to Ukraine on Wednesday, the source said. He wants to keep his job, and thinks it is important work.
A career diplomat, Taylor had to be convinced to take the Ukraine job in the first place, sources familiar with conversations explained. Volker recommended Taylor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the post after Yovanovitch’s unexpected removal in the spring. Taylor then met with Pompeo, State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Volker at the department at the end of May.
The conversation focused on US policy towards Ukraine and Pompeo’s view of that policy. The secretary of state argued the Trump administration had a robust policy — a position he has taken in numerous interviews — and the elephant in the room — Yovanovitch’s ouster — was not extensively addressed, the sources told CNN.
After the meeting, Taylor texted back and forth with Volker, and among other things he asked why Volker would not want to take the job. Volker said he was better off in his current role — covering Ukraine as well as Washington and allies and NATO. Taylor was on the ground in Ukraine, serving as de-facto ambassador, about a month later.