Thursday, January 20, 2022

Trump’s greatest interest in Ukraine was to investigate Biden, says diplomat

Charge d’Affaires at the US embassy in Ukraine Bill Taylor (R) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia George Kent (L) are sworn-in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 13 November 2019. EFE/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Washington, Nov 13 (efe-epa).- The major interest US President Donald Trump had in Ukraine was ensuring that Kyiv conduct investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a top US diplomat said in sworn testimony on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing.

Trump has been accused of trying to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Biden but has denied any wrongdoing.

William Taylor, the highest-ranking US diplomat in Ukraine, said that Biden, one of the front-running candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was Trump’s main concern.

Taylor made the statements during his testimony before House lawmakers on Wednesday in a hearing which could lead to an impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate if a majority of congressmen believe he abused the power of the presidency by asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

Charge d’Affaires at the US embassy in Ukraine Bill Taylor (R) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia George Kent (L) are sworn-in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 13 November 2019. EFE/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Taylor has said that he told top US officials that Trump’s decision to condition release of some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine on a commitment by Kyiv to investigate the Bidens was “crazy.”

The diplomat also revealed the existence of a telephone call that occurred in July between Trump and the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, another of the protagonists in the controversy – a call that was conducted by Sondland at a restaurant in the presence of one of Taylor’s team members, David Holmes.

In the call, Holmes – who could hear the president’s voice on Sondland’s cellphone, and thus his side of the conversation – said that Trump asked the EU envoy about “the investigations.”

After the call, Taylor’s assistant asked Sondland about the president’s opinion on Ukraine and testified that Holmes told him that “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which (Trump’s personal attorney Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for.”

Ukraine has strengthened its relationship with the US since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimea – an integral part of Ukraine – and over the past five years, the US Congress has authorized $1.6 billion in military assistance to Kyiv.


Members of the news media attend the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 13 November 2019. EFE/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Taylor said Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was the driving force behind a “highly irregular” back-channel of communication with Ukraine that was undermining the official objectives of US diplomacy in the East European country. Those official objectives include energy reforms and an ongoing fight against corruption, which has been endemic in that country.

The phone call between Trump and Sondland allegedly occurred on July 26, a day after the now-controversial telephone conversation in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to do him a favor and investigate the Bidens.

Taylor said the US president discussed two things in that July 25 call – the delivery to Ukraine of $400 million in military aid and the scheduling of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky, on the condition that Kyiv publicly commit to investigate the Bidens and Democrats.

The other witness testifying simultaneously with Taylor on Wednesday was Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau at the US Department of State George Kent, who appeared wearing a colorful bowtie, causing something of a stir on the social networks.

Kent, a career diplomat who was the No. 2 US official at Washington’s embassy in Ukraine from 1025-2018, was very critical of Trump’s attitude, saying that he did not think the US should ask other countries to launch investigations of a political nature against the rivals of sitting US leaders because such acts undermine the rule of law.