Now we have answers — and he seems to know plenty. And in other instances in which his testimony isn’t firsthand, Taylor helps outline a puzzle that others will probably be able to fill out.
Below, a few takeaways from Taylor’s opening statement.
1. There was a quid pro quo on military aid, he believes
In the text messages described above, Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador, asked Sept. 1 about hundreds of millions of dollars in withheld military aid: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” And on Sept. 9, he worried that “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
In his opening statement, Taylor said nothing has disabused him of that belief.
“I believed that then, and I still believe that,” he said.
2. But it wasn’t the only one
One of the big questions here was whether Trump might have gotten leverage from a) withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, or b) from withholding an Oval Office meeting that new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky badly wanted.
Taylor said it’s both.
“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskyy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma,” which employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, “and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” Taylor said.
The military aid was held up around the same time, but Taylor said it took him longer to reach the same conclusion about it.
“It still had not occurred to me that the hold on security assistance could be related to the ‘investigation,'" he said, describing where things stood in late August when the withheld military aid was first reported. “That, however, would soon change.”
3. An explicit quid pro quo — explicitly relayed to Ukraine
Taylor provides perhaps the most compelling evidence yet that this quid pro quo didn’t just exist but was explicitly communicated to Ukraine. Taylor said he was told by National Security Council aide Tim Morrison that Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, directly communicated that quid pro quo to a top Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak.
“During this same phone call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak at [a meeting in] Warsaw,” Taylor said. “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.” (Zelenskyy, the spelling used by Taylor in his written remarks, is the preferred spelling in Ukraine.)
That’s about as explicit as it gets — although it’s secondhand. It appears that Morrison’s testimony will now be key.
Taylor also said Sondland later told him directly that both a meeting and military aid depended on the investigations.
“Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor said. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney last week appeared to confirm a quid pro quo — saying the aid was held up in part because Ukraine declined to investigate a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election that Trump favors. Mulvaney soon tried to clean that up, saying Trump was merely concerned about corruption more broadly.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has also described such an arrangement on the 2016 investigation, saying Trump told him about it in an Aug. 31 phone call.
“But the president was very consistent on why he was considering [holding up the aid]," Johnson said this month. “Again, it was corruption, overall, generalized — but yeah, no doubt about it, what happened in 2016 — what happened in 2016, as relates? What was the truth about that?”
Johnson has also said Sondland told him at the time that the aid was tied to the investigation involving 2016 election interference, which Trump would apparently like to use to undercut the idea that Russia was behind it.
4. Sondland has explaining to do
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are talking about bringing Sondland back for more questioning, apparently believing he wasn’t forthcoming with them.
Sondland testified last week, for instance, that he wasn’t able to vouch for the lack of a quid pro quo. But Taylor suggests he was directly involved in communicating one. Taylor suggests Sondland tried to put a good face on it — and that Trump and Sondland took care to say it wasn’t a “quid pro quo” — but that that’s what it effectively was.
“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate,' " Taylor said of his Sept. 8 phone call with Sondland. “I understood a ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.”
Sondland also said testified last week that “I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about former vice president Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.”
But Taylor described Sondland relaying a direct request involving the Bidens to Ukraine.
5. More cloak-and-dagger
Taylor doesn’t just describe quid pro quos; he describes the kind of secrecy we’ve come to expect from the Ukraine saga.
He says on a June 28 call with the “three amigos” — Sondland, Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — Sondland said he wanted to prevent records of their upcoming call with Zelensky. He says Volker said on the call that he was going to make the White House demands to Zelensky explicit.
“I sense something odd when Ambassador Sondland told me on June 28 that he did not wish to include most of the regular interagency participants in a call planned with President Zelenskyy later that day,” Taylor says. “Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker, Secretary Perry, and I were on this call, dialing in from different locations. However, Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelenskyy to the call.”
“Strangely, even though I was the Chief of Mission and was scheduled to meet with President Zelenskyy along with Ambassador Volker the following day, I received no readout of the call from the White House,” he says.
The whistleblower who touched off this whole thing has alleged that the call between Trump and Zelensky was stored on a code-word-level computer system that is generally reserved for sensitive national security information.
Sondland also encouraged Taylor in their texts, after Taylor raised concerns about quid pro quos, to speak with him on the phone. Sondland has denied he was trying to avoid a written record of their conversation, saying that’s generally how he conducts business.