House Democrats are now rolling out the transcripts of various witnesses they had interrogated in the House Intelligence Committee’s secret subterranean chamber. They intend to conduct televised public hearings with these witnesses, starting next week. William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, will be front and center as a leading witness for the House Democrats’ impeachment proceedings. The transcript of his deposition was released on Wednesday. Mr. Taylor offered his understanding of what other people told him about their negative interpretations of President Trump’s alleged intent to improperly leverage the release of U.S. military aid and a White House meeting to bully the Ukrainian leader President Zelensky into opening investigations for President Trump’s political benefit. These had to do with alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the involvement of the Bidens with a Ukrainian energy company. However, Mr. Taylor had no first hand knowledge to substantiate his sources’ negative interpretations and admitted in his testimony that “Ambassador Sondland told me many times that President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo.” (p. 152).
If the House Democrats are relying on Mr. Taylor to advance their narrative, they are in real trouble. An exchange on p. 120 of the transcript between Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe and Mr. Taylor blows a big hole in the Democrats’ narrative. The Democrats have trumpeted President Trump’s July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Zelensky as evidence that President Trump improperly leveraged the release of U.S. military aid and a White House meeting for political purposes. But, as Ambassador Taylor admitted, the Ukrainians did not know that any aid was on hold at the time of the call.
MR. RATCLIFFE: I just want to be real clear that, again, as of July 25th, you have no knowledge of a quid pro quo involving military aid.
AMBASSADOR TAYLOR: July 25th is a week after the hold was put on the security assistance. And July 25th, they had a conversation between the two Presidents, where it was not discussed.
MR. RATCLIFFE: And to your knowledge, nobody in the Ukrainian Government was aware of the hold?
AMBASSADOR TAYLOR: That is correct.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tried to undo the damage that the answers to Rep. Radcliffe’s spot-on questioning inflicted on the narrative Rep. Schiff and his colleagues have been peddling. Schiff emphasized that Mr. Taylor was not a lawyer who would be expected to understand the legal technicalities of what constitutes “quid pro quo.” The Intelligence Committee chairman declared that whether the allegation against President Trump “meets a legal definition of ‘quid pro quo’ or it doesn’t is reaIly irrelevant to what we’re focused on here.” (p. 130) That’s odd since it was Mr. Taylor who had repeatedly alleged there was a “quid pro quo,” which he said he based on what other people had told him.
There were other exchanges during Mr. Taylor’s testimony that were seriously damaging to the Democrats’ narrative. Mr. Taylor was worried that the pressure being placed on the Ukrainians, which he learned about mostly second-hand, would interfere with his idea of what direction U.S. policy toward Ukraine should take. Nevertheless, Mr. Taylor acknowledged that President Zelensky did not give an interview to CNN or make some other public statement committing to conduct the investigations that President Trump wanted before the military aid was released to Ukraine. When he was asked to confirm that no announcement was ever made and the aid was still released, Mr. Taylor replied, “That’ s correct.” (p. 185)
The draft statement that President Zelensky had reportedly been asked to issue but never did reads as follows:
“Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to declare that this is unacceptable. We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.” (p.202)
If President Zelensky had issued that statement, which he did not, so what? It was a commitment to investigate Ukrainian corruption affecting a U.S. election and involving, in the case of Burisma, U.S. citizen Hunter Biden, who worked for the allegedly corrupt Ukrainian energy company being investigated by a Ukrainian prosecutor who lost his job as a result of pressure exerted by then Vice President Joe Biden. Are Joe and Hunter Biden above the law because Joe Biden is running for president? Apparently, the House Democrats think so.
Ambassador Taylor conceded that Vice President Pence’s message he delivered to Ukraine, that the Europeans should do more to support Ukraine and that the Ukrainians should do more to fight corruption, was entirely consistent with U.S. law and policy. (p. 183) These were the same two points that President Trump himself discussed in his call with President Zelensky.
It also turns out that the foreign policy and national security establishment’s obsession with the importance of providing military aid to Ukraine, which President Trump was supposedly undermining, may have been overdone. Mr. Taylor noted concerns that had been raised about Chinese investments in Ukraine. (p. 235) Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former Russia and Europe director with whom Mr. Taylor spoke frequently, had expressed concern about “the Chinese attempts to buy a Ukrainian [redacted] manufacturer.” (p. 282) Others also had expressed concern “about the Chinese interest in buying up some of Ukrainian technology and a company called [redacted].”
We cannot be sure of the specific Ukrainian company whose name was redacted in Mr. Taylor’s testimony. However, the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service had reported that the Chinese were eyeing the purchase of Motor Sich, a Ukrainian defense manufacturer of engines for missiles, helicopters and jets that is said to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. “Ukrainian media reported on August 19 that two Chinese firms had reached an agreement with state-owned military concern Ukroboronprom to jointly purchase the engine maker,” according to RFE/RL.
The prospective sale of Motor Sich to Chinese interests raised hackles in Washington, leading then-national security adviser John Bolton to warn Ukrainian officials during his late-August visit to Ukraine of the Trump administration’s very serious concerns. RFE/RL quoted Bolton as saying in Kiev, “This is an issue that I think is significant for Ukraine, but [also] significant for the U.S., for Europe, for Japan, for Australia, Canada, other countries.” China, he added, is using its “trade surpluses to gain economic leverage in countries around the world, to profit from defense technologies that others have developed.”
Not only would China be able to transfer Motor Sich’s technology to aid in its domestic production of engines for defense purposes. The acquisition of Motor Sich could help China advance its missile program. “The Chinese view Motor Sich primarily as an engine manufacturer for cruise missiles,” according to a Warsaw Institute report.
Again, whether Motor Sich was the company that Mr. Taylor had alluded to in his testimony remains to be seen. But there is substantial reason to question a key underlying assumption of the House Democratic narrative that Ukraine is a such a reliable friend of the United States, deserving of our unquestioned support to combat Russian aggression, that President Trump’s hesitancy in immediately releasing the military aid jeopardized vital U.S. national security interests. Combating Chinese military ambitions is certainly vital to U.S. national security.
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