by Chuck Ross
The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine said Tuesday that he was told military aid to Ukraine was contingent on Ukrainian officials publicly announcing investigations related to Joe Biden and his son, as well as into whether the Ukrainian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The charge d’affairs to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, made the remarks in an opening statement before his deposition in a Democrat-led impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
The inquiry focuses on Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and whether he offered a quid pro quo to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky involving politically charged investigations aimed at the Bidens, and their links to Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Taylor, who served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, said in his opening statement that Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told him that Trump wanted Zelensky to open investigations into Burisma and the Bidens in exchange for both the release of military aid to Ukraine, as well as a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Zelensky.
Trump has denied that a quid pro quo was in place over the military aid, which the administration released on Sept. 12, after a nearly two-month hold.
Taylor said that on Sept. 1, Sondland conveyed to him in a phone call that “everything” the Ukrainian government sought from the U.S. was “dependent” on Zelensky publicly committing to an investigation of Burisma and 2016 election interference.
Sondland “said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations,” Taylor said.
“Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations,” said Taylor, whose opening statement was first published by The Washington Post.
Sondland testified on Oct. 17 that, while Trump personally told him that there was no quid pro quo in place for security assistance, he was not certain Trump was telling the truth. Kurt Volker, who worked with Sondland and Taylor as special envoy to Ukraine, told lawmakers on Oct. 3 that he did not see evidence that military assistance was part of a quid pro quo.
Text messages involving Volker, Sondland and Taylor do indicate that the diplomats believed that Trump wanted Zelensky to commit to the investigations in exchange for a face-to-face White House meeting.
Taylor said that in August he became “increasingly concerned” that the administration’s push for investigations was guided by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who had publicly pushed for investigations into Biden and Burisma.
Giuliani worked with Sondland and Volker to push Ukrainian officials to investigate whether Joe Biden, as vice president, in 2016 had pressured Ukraine’s president at the time, Petro Poroshenko, to fire a prosecutor who claims he was conducting an investigation that pertained to Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company that had Hunter Biden as a board member.
On Oct. 10, federal prosecutors in New York indicted two Soviet-born businessmen who worked with Giuliani to push the Burisma allegations. Giuliani is also reportedly under investigation for his Ukraine-related work.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.