William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said Wednesday during the first public impeachment hearing that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said in July that President Trump cared more about whether Ukraine would investigate Joe Biden than about the broader U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
Taylor said Sondland made the remark to a member of Taylor’s staff after the staff member overheard a cell phone call between Sondland and Trump on July 26, the day after Trump’s ill-fated phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
During that call with Zelensky, which ignited the impeachment inquiry, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and Biden’s son’s business connections to a Ukrainian gas company. Trump also asked that Zelensky investigate alleged 2016 election meddling by Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv,” Taylor testified in his opening statement. “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,” Taylor continued. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Trump lawyer Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for.”
Sondland testified to Congress behind closed doors last month that according to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the president wanted Ukraine to investigate both the 2016 election and the Ukrainian gas company tied to the Bidens.
Taylor told Sondland and other U.S. officials in September through text messages that “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign” and threatened to resign if the “nightmare scenario,” in which Trump continued to withhold military aid even after coercing Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden, materialized.
The White House has denied accusations of a quid pro quo relating to the Trump administration’s delay of much-needed U.S. military aid to Ukraine over the same period the administration was pressuring Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens.