That phone call is also potentially important. We don’t know this for sure, but that could very well be a reference to the fact that in text exchanges with Sondland on Sept. 9, Taylor texted: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
That has long seemed like a tantalizing lead, since it strongly implied that Taylor and Sondland had argued on the phone over Taylor’s objections to the quid pro quo. It’s now plausible that Taylor testified to precisely this point.
Meanwhile, Politico fleshes out more, reporting that people who listened to Taylor’s testimony were struck by his description of the scope of the ongoing efforts to compel Ukraine to carry out Trump’s political bidding.
One Democrat in the room, Rep. Andy Levin (Mich.), put it this way to reporters: “All I have to say is that in my 10 short months in Congress — it’s not even noon, right — and this is my most disturbing day in Congress so far. Very troubling.”
Still, Taylor’s apparent testimony creates a conflict of sorts with Sondland, who testified that “to the best of my knowledge, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.”
Of course, Sondland’s carefully lawyered formulation there doesn’t exclude the possibility that there was discussion of withholding the military aid in return for assistance with investigating generic corruption in Ukraine, the cover story that Trumpworld has concocted to mask the real demand for material to smear Biden.
Indeed, CNN reports that people around Sondland are pushing back on Taylor’s reported testimony with precisely that fudging of “smear Biden” with “investigate corruption”:
Asked about Taylor's comments, a source familiar with Sondland's testimony said that Sondland cited, in addition to the investigations, that the aid may have been frozen because the Europeans weren't giving Ukraine enough and corruption in general. The source said Sondland was only speculating when he referenced the political investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma.
“He made very clear in his testimony that nobody would give him a straight answer” about why the aid was being held up, the source said about Sondland’s testimony.
And this returns us to what has always been the crowning absurdity of this whole affair. Again, a simple glance at the timeline shows that as early as May, both Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Trump himself had explicitly and publicly stated for all the world to hear that they wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden. Not generic corruption. Biden.
Everyone — including Sondland — simply had to know that “investigate corruption” or, even more obviously, “investigate Burisma” actually meant “smear Biden.”
In that context, now that Taylor is testifying that the funding was tied directly to this demand for investigations, we have the quid pro quo.
What’s evident is that this use of “investigate corruption” and “investigate Burisma” as a smokescreen for “smear Biden” will continue. And it’s possible that Republicans will conclude that this gives them just enough plausible deniability — or capacity to spread confusion and disinformation — to keep pretending Trump’s conduct was defensible.
But again, what we already know is impeachable. Whether there was a quid pro quo, Trump used the power of the presidency to leverage a foreign leader into helping him corrupt our democracy, by helping sustain a conspiracy theory to absolve Russia of sabotaging our election on his behalf in 2016, and smearing his opponent in 2020. The multipronged betrayal of our country is already extraordinary and damning.
The only question is whether this will grow even harder to defend for Republicans than it already is. Taylor’s testimony suggests it very well might.
Update: Here’s Taylor’s opening statement. It makes it even more obvious that the quid pro quo involved military aid frozen to leverage an investigation (i.e., a smearing) of Biden.
At one point, Taylor testified that Sondland explicitly told him that the military aid was conditioned on Ukraine announcing an investigation into Burisma — which, as noted above, had widely been understood for months to mean “investigate Biden.”
At another point, Taylor testified that Tim Morrison of the National Security Council told him Sondland had confided that Trump wanted an explicit announcement of an investigation into Biden. That seems to directly undercut Sondland’s chief defense that he didn’t know it was for an investigation into Biden.
And we now know meeting that demand was a key condition for getting the military aid.