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Opinion If this isn’t impeachable, nothing is

Acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. leaves a meeting with the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry in Washington on Tuesday. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Words such as “devastating” and “bombshell” hardly do justice to the congressional testimony of William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. This wasn’t a smoking gun. It was a smoking howitzer, and it devastated all of the excuses and evasions made by President Trump’s die-hard defenders. The party lines — “what Trump did was wrong but not impeachable” and “at least there was no quid pro quo” and “get over it, everyone does it” — are now, as they used to say during Watergate, inoperative.

The new White House fallback — that “this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution” and that it’s all based on “triple hearsay and selective leaks” — is laughably inadequate given the copious, detailed, utterly convincing testimony that Taylor provided in his 15-page opening statement, to say nothing of what he said behind closed doors. That Taylor was a compelling witness is evident from the fact that Republicans could find nothing to leak that would undermine his admissions.

William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified Oct. 22 in the House impeachment probe. Here's a look at what you might have missed. (Video: Reuters)

Taylor’s probity is unassailable. He is a West Point graduate who served his country for 50 years, starting as an infantry officer in Vietnam and culminating in apolitical service as a diplomat in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Ukraine. His credibility vastly exceeds not just Trump’s but also Trump’s lickspittles — men such as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who confessed to a quid pro quo with Ukraine one morning last week and then absurdly denied he had said what everyone had heard him say.

All Americans should read Taylor’s opening statement for themselves, but, briefly, what he said is that Trump established an “irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking with respect to Ukraine” that circumvented the State Department and included Trump’s private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, special envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. This channel operated in strict secrecy: Sondland, a wealthy campaign donor, “said that he wanted to make sure that no one was transcribing or monitoring” a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

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Why the secrecy? Because the “irregular, informal channel” was a way for Trump to use U.S. military aid to blackmail a foreign country into helping him win reelection.

In his own testimony last week, Sondland said he couldn’t confirm there was no quid pro quo, but he wasn’t aware of one. Taylor discredited this dodge. Taylor testified that “Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone, and say that he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.” Or else. Taylor testified that “Sondland said ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”

Taylor’s recollections will have to be cross-checked against those of others involved, including National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison. But assuming they are accurate, this is the strongest evidence yet that Trump did want a quid pro quo, just as Mulvaney admitted. The only thing Trump didn’t want, it seems, was to use the Latin phrase.

Taylor testified that both Sondland and Volker told him Trump “is a businessman” and “when a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something … the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” Of course, as Taylor noted, Zelensky did not owe Trump anything, and it was “crazy” to hold up “security assistance for domestic political gain.” But Trump conflated self-interest with public interest, subverting U.S. foreign policy to his desire for dirt on a political opponent.

Taylor and the other witnesses who have testified in recent weeks — including former NSC staffer Fiona Hill and former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — have only confirmed the sordid reality that we could see for ourselves in the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” the U.S. president said when Zelensky mentioned his desire for U.S. weapons.

It is hard to imagine a higher crime or misdemeanor — or more blatant corruption. If this isn’t impeachable, nothing is. More evidence will be forthcoming, but the record so far already makes clear beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump must be impeached and removed.

Republicans should forget about saving their seats and focus on saving their souls. They shouldn’t worry what Trump will think of them. They should worry what their grandchildren will think of them.

This is a time for choosing: Will House and Senate members be loyal to the republic or to the Republican Party? Will they choose the president or the Constitution? The country or their most rabid constituents?

It is time for some brave Republicans to do what Republican leaders did at the height of Watergate: march into the White House and tell the president it’s time to go. Barry Goldwater’s words back then apply equal well today: “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many.”

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Impeachment Diary: The words that could end a presidency

Greg Sargent: An overlooked Bill Taylor revelation hints at worse to come from Trump

The Post’s View: Here’s the quid pro quo proof, Lindsey Graham

Paul Waldman: Even the undisputed facts of this scandal are damning. Here’s what we know.

Megan McArdle: Why the Senate might actually remove Trump from office