WASHINGTON — Two of the most damaging witnesses against President Trump’s will appear on national television Wednesday, when the curtain finally rises on the public phase of the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats are leading with two long-time State Department officials who had front-row seats to the strange machinations of Trump's pressure campaign to get Ukraine to launch politically helpful investigations.
The event is set to kick off at 10:00 a.m. on Capitol Hill and will feature:
- Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and a foreign service officer with over 30 years of experience under both Democrat and Republican presidents
- George Kent, a top State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy
In previous closed-door testimony, both men have recounted, with story-telling skills fit for a murder mystery novel, how they learned of the shadow foreign policy campaign to manipulate Ukraine into launching politically explosive investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Both men testified those efforts appeared to be led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer with no actual government job.
Much of what they’ll say has been made public in lengthy written transcripts, but Democrats hope that the visual image of career public servants laying out the case in public will resonate and help build public support for impeaching Trump. And there’s always a chance something new could be revealed on live TV.
Here’s what you need to know about both men and their damning testimony against Trump.
Taylor helped back up Democrats central claim: That Trump’s allies tried to swap military aid for investigations.
During his first appearance in late October, Taylor testified he was told that the release of hundreds of millions in U.S. to Ukraine had been made contingent on a public commitment to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election.
- He was so rattled by his discovery of the secondary, “irregular” diplomatic channel led by Giuliani that he prepared to resign.
- EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland told Taylor that Trump explicitly denied any quid pro quo, then contradicted himself by adding that the money wouldn’t flow if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t personally announce investigations.
- “Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and [Zelensky’s 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.”
- Trump wanted to put Zelensky “‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
- Sondland “recommended to President Zelensky that he use the phrase, ‘I will leave no stone unturned’ with regard to investigations” when Zelensky spoke to Trump.
- Ukrainian officials were “very concerned” and “desperate” about the hold-up in U.S. aid by late August, and Taylor was “embarrassed” he couldn’t explain to them what happened.
Taylor’s account of these events has been backed up by records from a group WhatsApp chat between Taylor, Sondland and Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
His memory was also bolstered by copious realtime notes he took of these interactions. But he turned those notes over to the State Department — which, so far, hasn’t been willing to share them with Congress.
Kent, the State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy, put Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney at the center of the Ukraine scandal.
Kent recalled that during a video conference in July, an official at the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney also heads, said that “Mick Mulvaney, at the direction of the president, had put a hold on all security assistance to the Ukraine.”
And he told how a smear campaign against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch led to Trump recalling her back to Washington in the spring of 2019.
- Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.”
- Giuliani was “pushing for a visa” for former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokhin, who was “very unfavorably known” to the State Department. Giuliani “attempted to call the White House” about it.
- Giuliani’s relationship with another controversial former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, “seemed to be a classic, you scratch my back, I scratch yours” situation.
- Lutsenko was “looking for revenge” against Yovanovitch, who encouraged anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine that would impact Lutsenko’s office.
- Giuliani and his pals rolled out a “campaign of slander” against Yovanovitch that ultimately resulted in her recall from Ukraine.
- In the midst of all that, State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl reached out to Fox News anchor Sean Hannity and told him to knock off the criticism of Yovanovitch if there was no proof against her. And Hannity listened.
- Kent was invited by Giuliani to meet his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both of whom have since been criminally indicted on campaign finance charges. Kent demurred.
Kent will likely also provide a window of opportunity for Republicans to ask about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who had a paid role on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company called Burisma while his father was Vice President.
Kent said that in 2015 he “raised concerns” about Hunter Biden’s relationship with a Ukrainian company with a poor reputation, and cautioned that it could “create the perception of a conflict of interest.”
But he was told by the Vice President’s staff that because Job Biden’s other son, Beau, was dying of cancer, “there was no further bandwidth to deal with family related issues at that time.”
Cover: UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 22: Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrives to the Capitol for a deposition related to the House's impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call),