Below are some takeaways from Taylor’s full testimony.
1. A second quid pro quo
The quid pro quo that we knew Taylor had explicitly outlined was one involving military aid; he said he had been told that Sondland told a Ukrainian official that the investigations Trump wanted would need to be announced for the aid to go through.
But in his further testimony, he also indicates that he was told in slightly less-certain terms that there was a quid pro quo involving a meeting with Trump. Taylor hinted at this in his opening statement, but he clarified it in his testimony:
Q: On page 5 of your testimony, in the third paragraph, you say: “But during my subsequent communications with Ambassador [Kurt] Volker and Sondland, they relayed to me that the President, quote, “wanted to hear from Zelensky,” unquote, “before scheduling the meeting in the Oval Office. It was not clear to me what this meant.” Now, I take it, ambassador, you used that word “before” deliberately — that is, they wanted to hear from Zelensky before they would schedule this meeting. Is that right?A: That is correct.
Taylor says elsewhere in his testimony that he didn’t know the full details at the time but that he came to understand that the condition was that Ukraine would announce certain investigations, including one involving the company that employed former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
“By mid-July, it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian influence in the 2016 elections,” Taylor said in his opening statement. “It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”
He was further asked whether “when you talk about ‘conditioned,’ did you mean that if they didn’t do this — the investigations — they weren’t going to get that, the meeting and the military assistance?”
“That was my clear understanding,” Taylor said.
2. He points the finger at Giuliani, not at Trump personally.
I wrote earlier Wednesday about how the testimonies of Volker and Sondland appear to be pointing in the direction of Republicans laying all this at the feet of Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. The two of them suggested they never had an explicit quid pro quo conveyed to them, and Sondland said he instead just “presumed” one was in place. What’s more, they both indicated Giuliani’s actions were problematic, if not illegal (in the case of Sondland).
Taylor’s testimony also stops short of directly implicating Trump. Taylor indicates that the quid pro quo was coming from Giuliani and says he didn’t know whether Trump was behind it.
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-N.Y.): So where was this condition coming from if you’re not sure if it was coming from the President?TAYLOR: I think it was coming from Mr. Giuliani.ZELDIN: But not from the president?TAYLOR: I don’t know.
Taylor adds that he doesn’t “know what was in the president’s mind.”
That doesn’t mean Trump wasn’t involved; indeed, someone like Taylor would have a difficult time knowing that, given that he wasn’t central to this effort. (He says he didn’t speak with Trump and didn’t even get a summary of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, for instance.) Nor does it mean Giuliani didn’t have Trump’s blessing; he was serving as Trump’s lawyer, after all, and Trump has talked about the same investigations Giuliani was seeking, including in the July 25 call.
But it’s significant that Taylor stops short of saying he could trace this to Trump. And Republicans will continue to argue that Trump never explicitly called for a quid pro quo.
3. The plot thickens on ‘very sympathetic’ John Bolton.
Former national security adviser John Bolton looms large over this, as he would seem to be a rather motivated witness. Other aides have described him angrily cutting short a July 10 meeting in which Sondland broached the investigations with Ukrainian officials and telling aides to report their concerns about the situation.
The big question is whether Bolton will testify; for now, he’s awaiting some court rulings.
But Taylor provides even more of a window into Bolton’s reservations about this entire operation. He had said in his opening statement that Bolton told him to send a first-person cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating his concerns about the military aid being withheld. And now, in his further testimony, we learn that Bolton went even further.
Taylor says that Bolton had “indicated that he was very sympathetic” to Taylor’s concerns and that Bolton “was also trying, with the two secretaries and the director of the CIA [Gina Haspel], to get this decision reversed.” (At another point, Taylor indicates that the “two secretaries” were Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.)
Taylor also says Bolton warned against holding the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, because he “thought it was going to be a disaster.”
“He thought that there could be some talk of investigations or worse on the call,” Taylor said. “Turned out he was right.”
The Bolton plot thickens.
4. Taylor is going to be a very important witness next week.
While Bolton would be a massive witness, Taylor will set the tone. He is one of two witnesses slated for the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry next week, along with George Kent. And Taylor’s testimony Nov. 13 is looming larger than ever.
Volker and Sondland have shown that they aren’t terribly interested in blowing the lid off the Ukraine scandal, with Volker denying knowledge of a quid pro quo and Sondland disclosing his only after others implicated him (he issued a clarification to his testimony Monday).
Taylor, by contrast, seemed to come into the job wary of the Giuliani setup, and he describes a process of gradually having his worst fears confirmed. Taylor also says he has “always kept careful notes, and I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I’m not in the office.”
Those notes could prove crucial, as could Taylor’s willingness to say things that other political appointees are warier of.
This post has been updated.