Ambassador’s damaging testimony on Ukraine
A House vote to impeach President Trump became a near-certainty this week after Acting Ukrainian Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. testified that he was explicitly told that President Trump had suspended $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly announced an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Taylor’s damaging testimony came days after White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney shocked the president’s lawyers and supporters by admitting in a televised press conference that Trump had conditioned the release of the congressionally approved aid—intended to help fund Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists—on Zelensky opening an investigation into a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. When a reporter said to Mulvaney, “To be clear, what you described is a quid pro quo,” the chief of staff responded, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.… Get over it.”
Taylor, a career diplomat who was appointed acting ambassador by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testified after defying a White House order not to do so. He said that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, had intervened in Ukraine policy and told him “President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement” about investigating the Bidens. Taylor also testified that Sondland said Trump had made “everything” contingent on such a declaration of investigations, including a meeting with the president that Zelensky had requested. The acting ambassador said that he kept “meticulous” contemporaneous notes about the pressure put on Zelensky by Sondland and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called Taylor’s testimony “incredibly damning,” while Trump branded the House’s investigation a “lynching.”
To protest that Democrats were conducting the inquiry in closed hearings, a group of about 20 congressional Trump allies barged into the secure hearing room, causing an uproar that delayed a Pentagon official’s testimony by five hours. “If behind those doors, they intend to overturn the result of an American presidential election, we want to know what’s going on,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Republican members of the Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees have been attending the depositions all along and asking questions. But Trump had urged his congressional allies to “take the gloves off,” saying that Democrats “have been fighting dirty.”
What the editorials said
Mulvaney’s press conference “was, in essence, a videotaped confession,” said The Boston Globe. In the space of one hour, he not only admitted that the president used “taxpayer dollars to service his own political needs” but also served notice “that Trump will continue to use U.S. foreign policy for his own purposes.” How else are we to interpret his brazen demand that Americans “Get over it”?
Trump did himself no favors in describing the actions of his political opponents as a “lynching,” said The Wall Street Journal. “No president” should ever employ a word that is synonymous with “mobs that murdered African-Americans in an earlier, shameful era.” But in doing so Trump once again forced his “more judicious allies” to either defend the indefensible or risk his wrath. Trump will need to keep his allies if he is to survive impeachment.
What the columnists said
Taylor’s testimony “sealed the deal,” said John Podhoretz in CommentaryMagazine.com. “That’s the ballgame. That’s impeachment.” Taylor destroyed Trump’s defense that no quid pro quo existed, and that he was “only interested in investigating corruption relating to the 2016 election.” We now have “the smoking gun,” said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. Trump’s “politically motivated shakedown” of Zelensky was clearly “a corrupt quid pro quo.” No one denies that Trump froze hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine, or that he reminded Zelensky of U.S. largesse in a phone call and asked for “a favor”—an investigation of his possible 2020 political opponent and a baseless conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. The only question now is whether Republicans will permit an American president to “encourage foreign influence on U.S. elections without consequence.”
Taylor exhibited great “purpose, integrity, and decency” in deciding to testify before the House, said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg.com. The career civil servant, West Point graduate, officer, and veteran diplomat accepted the personal risk to his own career because of his belief in Ukraine’s “strategic importance” to the U.S. Contrast him with the opportunists in Trump’s camp: the power-and-limelight-infatuated Giuliani; Sondland, a wealthy hotelier who bought himself an ambassadorship with a $1 million donation to Trump’s inauguration; and Trump himself, whose motivations are entirely self-serving and always concern “money, money, money.”
With impeachment by the House now inevitable, Trump “should want it to come as soon as possible,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. The longer that Democrats are able to string out the process, the longer they can leak damaging details, excite their base, and discourage Republicans. Trump hates the idea of impeachment, but a House vote followed by his “near-inevitable acquittal in the Senate” is the only way out.
House Democrats are now saying that the impeachment inquiry will likely push “deeper into December” than previously expected, said Billy House in Bloomberg.com. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member on the House Oversight Committee, said that “from a political point of view” Democrats did not want the investigation “spilling into the re-election or the presidential campaign year.” But he added that a thorough investigation was necessary so as not to make “it even easier for Mitch McConnell to give it a pro forma dismissal” in the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have begun bracing for a trial in January, said Claudia Grisales in NPR.org. At a meeting of the GOP caucus last week, McConnell and his staff gave a “tutorial of sorts,” along with a PowerPoint presentation. He told senators the trial “could last as long as six to eight weeks.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam
Cover photos from AP, Getty, Newscom. ■