WASHINGTON — President Trump kicked off his week much like he ended his last: deflecting damning revelations coming from within his own administration.
Things got ugly Tuesday, when Trump’s own acting ambassador to Ukraine, a widely-respected career diplomat, delivered an “excruciatingly detailed” account of the president’s pressure campaign to swap military aid for politically-helpful investigations with Ukraine.
Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony was especially troubling for Trump because he appeared to confirm, and expand upon, the lengths to which officials in Trump’s administration went to force Ukraine into launching such investigations.
By Friday, federal investigators had blown the lock off a safe to access the contents in their intensifying probe of soviet-born businessmen who guided Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in his back-alley diplomatic escapades in Ukraine, according to CNN. One of those men explicitly tied his case to Trump in a New York courtroom, further challenging Trump’s claim not to know “those gentlemen.”
And we’d be remiss not to mention Rudy’s not one, but two, embarrassing butt-dials to an NBC reporter, in which he complained about needing money and Vice President Joe Biden’s family.
As signs emerged of softening support for Trump among GOP senators, Trump’s defenders in the House flailed, holding a bizarre pizza-fueled takeover of the secure room in the basement of the Capitol where the closed-door impeachment depositions are being held, even though several of them already have unrestricted access to the chamber.
“At this point, it seems hard to imagine that the House won’t ultimately impeach the president,” said Richard Arenberg, a veteran Capitol Hill staffer who spent three decades working for Democrats. “Ambassador Taylor’s statement was devastating.”
“Everything” depended on investigations
Taylor kicked the week off with a hair-raising account of his discovery of the “irregular” diplomatic pressure campaign on Ukraine, which involved Giuliani and Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Taylor’s dramatic opening statement read like a mystery novel — and recounted how Sondland told Taylor that Trump wanted Ukraine’s president to personally announce politically helpful investigations.
Trump wanted to put Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations,” said Taylor, who was appointed acting ambassador to Ukraine last spring by the Trump administration.
Taylor said Sondland told him that “everything” in U.S.-Ukraine relations depended on Ukraine announcing those investigations — including millions in vital military aid that the Trump administration withheld.
“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and [Zelensky adviser] Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a stalemate,” Taylor said. “I understood a ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed assistance.”
Democrats emerging from Taylor’s testimony looked visibly agitated.
“All I have to say is that in my 10 short months in Congress... this is my most disturbing day in Congress so far,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.).
Republicans were left to argue that Taylor’s narrative hadn't held up as well during cross examination, without pointing to any specifics.
Instead, they stormed the hearing room the next day, stalling the deposition of a new witness, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper, for hours.
They complained loudly about the process, ordered pizza, and broke House rules by bringing cell phones into the secure room known as the SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility) in a security breach.
Ultimately, they couldn’t stop Democrats’ impeachment momentum.
Next week, the Dems will hear from Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official thought to be the first witness who was on the notorious July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, which helped kickstart the whole impeachment shebang.
Meanwhile in New York
As if all that D.C. drama weren’t enough, a criminal case in New York against some of the central players in the impeachment scandal also raced forward.
A report in Politico indicated that the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division has “taken an interest” in Giuliani, too, adding to the already-reported probes by the FBI and prosecutors for the Southern District of New York into Giuliani’s links to Ukraine.
Prosecutors told a judge this week they’re sifting through the data of more than 50 bank accounts in the case against Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who’ve been accused, alongside two others, of attempting to buy political influence by splashing out on illegal GOP campaign donations.
Parnas and Fruman pleaded not guilty this week, and Parnas vowed to beat the rap.
But to do that, he may just tie his case closer to the president. On Wednesday, Parnas’ lawyer told the judge that some of the voluminous evidence in his case might be covered by presidential executive privilege — remarks that threaten to drag Trump’s White House lawyers directly into the very courtroom.
“Mr. Parnas was using Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer,” Parnas' attorney, Ed MacMahon, told the judge, according to CNN. “And then we have the issue of Mr. Giuliani working as personal attorney for the President.”
Cover: President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, before boarding Marine One for the short trip to Andrews Air Force Base. Trump is heading to South Carolina to speak at Benedict College in Columbia. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)