It concerns Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a ringleader of the scheme organized by Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into announcing a sham investigation that would smear Joe Biden. Here’s what Taylor described:
In the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about “the investigations.” Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.
Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. At the time I gave my deposition on Oct. 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness.
Since Taylor was not personally at this dinner, Sondland will certainly have to be asked about it when he testifies next week. But what we see here is Trump not as a disconnected figure, not as someone unaware of what is being done on his behalf, but as someone so intimately involved that he’s taking phone calls from Sondland to discuss the nuts and bolts of the whole plot.
This is important, because one defense of Trump that Republicans have floated is to essentially blame Giuliani, Sondland and maybe some others for the whole scandal, painting Trump as remote and therefore blameless.
As The Post reported last week, House Republicans have hatched a plan to shield Trump by shifting the focus to Giuliani, Sondland and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, “who they say could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy.”
And Axios reported that top House Republican sources say that one impeachment “survival strategy” will be to try to distance Trump from any Ukraine quid pro quo, "with Rudy Giuliani potentially going under the bus.”
That this idea is plainly contradicted by all the facts will of course provide little impediment to Republicans, who have tried out literally dozens of equally preposterous arguments. But this is not the first story of Trump — who as president is not ordinarily the easiest person to get on the phone — taking a call from an underling to get updated on the progress of the Ukraine project.
Taylor’s story is reminiscent of something reported in an early account of Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to smear the Bidens, published in the New York Times in May. It described Giuliani having a series of meetings with Ukrainian officials for that purpose and showed he was doing so at Trump’s direction and with his close involvement:
Mr. Giuliani has discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersection with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor. He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year. The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.
During the meeting, Giuliani called Trump to give him up-to-the-minute updates. Sondland called Trump from a restaurant for the same purpose — and, once again, Trump took the call.
It isn’t just phone calls, of course. At the core of this scandal is an apparatus Trump himself established within the government to circumvent the career diplomats and national security professionals overseeing policy toward Ukraine, an apparatus that included Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
Over and over again, Trump told people — members of his administration, and of course Zelensky — to work with Giuliani on these matters. And Giuliani has never made any bones about the fact that he was acting not in the interests of the United States but to obtain embarrassing information on Joe Biden to aid Trump’s reelection.
The big picture here is that what separates big, historic scandals from minor ones is the personal involvement of the president. It’s what puts Watergate, Iran-contra and the Lewinsky scandal in one category, and every other mini-scandal in another. It’s why all Republicans’ efforts to taint Barack Obama failed: Not only were the scandals they tried to drum up largely bogus, none of them had anything to do with Obama himself. The president’s personal involvement is what leads to impeachment.
That’s what has happened in the past, and that’s what will happen now. Trump is going to be impeached, not because of what Giuliani did, not because of what Sondland did, but because of what he himself did. If there was ever any ambiguity about that, it’s rapidly disappearing.