Making the click-through worthwhile: Bill Taylor’s claims have to be taken seriously, as they paint a specific and damning portrait of an administration willing to disregard and even shut out the secretaries of defense and state, the CIA director, and the national-security adviser on a key decision made in secret; what keeps parents up at night; and yet another person you have probably never heard of is thinking of running for president.
The Almost Unbelievable Claims of Bill Taylor, the U.S. Envoy to Ukraine
You’re going to hear a lot of furious reactions to the testimony of Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine*, to the House panel preparing articles of impeachment. Perhaps the most mind-boggling sentence in his prepared statement is this one, describing concern at the highest levels of government about aid not getting to Ukraine in July of this year: “My understanding was that the Secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA Director, and the National Security Advisor sought a joint meeting with the president to convince him to release the hold, but such a meeting was hard to schedule and the hold lasted well into September.”
Read that again. Are we honestly to believe that four of the highest-ranking cabinet officials with duties relating to national security couldn’t get a meeting with the commander-in-chief? What, was the president avoiding them?
This should not be an eternal, impenetrable mystery. Either secretary of defense Mark Esper, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, CIA director Gina Haspell, and former national-security adviser John Bolton will corroborate this account or they won’t. If they contradict it, then Taylor is offering a version of events that exaggerates the level of concern about Trump’s blocking the Ukraine aid. If they confirm it — and the President of the United States simply wouldn’t talk to four of his top officials about a decision about aid to an ally against the Russian military — then we have a state of dysfunction at the highest level of our government that is positively nightmarish and that must be remedied immediately, by whatever constitutional methods are available.
The president can think aiding Ukraine is a bad idea all he wants. He could have tried to legally and constitutionally withhold the aid under the Impoundment Control Act, which gives Congress 45 days to effectively veto a president’s attempt to stop such an expenditure. But Trump didn’t do that. Based upon what we know now, it appears the president and his top staff tried to withhold the aid in secret, in defiance of Congress, and in defiance of the advice of his top national-security officials. Refusing to distribute funds that Congress had authorized and appropriated would be a violation of the separation of powers; the president cannot decide to simply refuse to carry out funding decisions of Congress and not tell anyone.
Beyond that, the administration’s repeated insistence that there was no quid pro quo is contradicted by government officials, including the president, stating that U.S. military assistance would only be sent if the Ukrainian president announced the Bidens were under investigation. That’s what a quid pro quo is.
“The following day, on September 8, Ambassador Sondland and I spoke on the phone. He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” 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 public, we would be at a stalemate. I understood a stalemate mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing to make a public statement in an interview with CNN.”
The country needs to hear from these officials publicly, and perhaps under oath, really soon. Taylor describes a July 19 phone call that suggests the administration couldn’t even discuss its national-security priorities without partisan politics muddying the waters:
[Fiona Hill, National Security Council Senior Director for Russian and European Affairs and National Security Council European Director Alex Vindman] gave me an account of the July 10 meeting with the Ukrainian officials at the White House. Specifically, they told me that Ambassador Sondland had connected “investigations with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelenskyy, which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics. He also directed Dr. Hill to the lawyers. Dr. Hill said that Bolton referred to this as a “drug deal” after the July 10 meeting. Ambassador Bolton opposed a call between President Zelenskyy and President Trump out of concern that it “would be a disaster.”
Keep in mind, Bill Taylor is still the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. If President Trump wanted to have a different ambassador, he could have nominated one at any point during his presidency. The president famously complained about Marie Yovanovitch in his conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, but he’s had a GOP-controlled Senate since he took office.
The administration’s countermove has been to contend that Taylor is a “radical unelected bureaucrat waging war on the Constitution.” Er, yeah, he must be one of those left-wing radicals who went to West Point, served in the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne in Vietnam, then received a Bronze Star and Air Medal V for heroism. He’s the kind of left-wing radical who would work with NATO during the Reagan administration and that George W. Bush would appoint as ambassador to Ukraine. He’s the kind of left-wing radical who worked for the State Department coordinating assistance to Afghanistan just a few months after the Taliban fell, and oversaw reconstruction in Iraq about a year after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Yeah, sure, this guy’s a regular Code Pink Antifa type.
If the administration wants to argue that Taylor ultimately proved to be an internal foe of Trump’s worldview, that’s probably accurate. His entire statement is a giant splash of cold water:
If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic, and at peace. In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people, and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world. With the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the continued aggression in Donbas, Russia violated countless treaties, ignored all commitments, and dismissed all the principles that have kept the peace and contributed to prosperity in Europe since World War II. To restore Ukraine’s independence, Russia must leave Ukraine. This has been and should continue to be a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy goal.
From his statements and actions, the president of the United States does not agree with that. His willingness to withhold aid — specifically for information about the Bidens, not for any broad-based anti-corruption initiative — indicates that he does not think that keeping Russian military forces out of eastern Ukraine should be a U.S. priority.
The one time that President Trump addressed Crimea recently, he described the invasion and occupation of Crimea as some sort of Obama-administration problem that he has no responsibility to address.
A certain section of Ukraine that you know very well, where it was sort of taken away from President Obama. Not taken away from President Trump; taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened because it was embarrassing to him. Right? It was very embarrassing to him. And he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the “G8.” And that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin. He was outsmarted. President Putin outsmarted President Obama.
The inevitable response from Trump fans is some variation of, “how many lives are you going to sacrifice over Crimea?” — even though many of these same folks pointed to the occupation of Crimea as a sign of Obama’s weakness back in 2014. As with the Obama administration’s defense of the Iran deal, the argument contends that the only two options are the administration’s preferred course of action or all-out war. The United States never lacks tools in its toolbox, it just lacks lawmakers willing to use them: sanctions, intelligence-sharing, espionage, joint training exercises, the bully pulpit, economic assistance, and perhaps most significantly, arms exports and military assistance.
American military assistance to Ukraine had been the single biggest and most glaring piece of counter-evidence against the accusation that President Trump is a Putin stooge. It’s now clear that Trump was never that strong a supporter of this policy.
*Technically, Taylor’s title is “Chargés d’affaires ad interim,” because he was appointed to the position by the secretary of state but not confirmed by the Senate.
The Questions That Keep You Up at Night
What keeps you up at night? Over on the NR homepage, I wrote about wondering if your kids are going to be prepared for the challenges of adulthood, being taught the right things, able to get into a good school, able to get hired, and able to keep a good job. Government policies at the national, state, and local level, and our society’s values and behavior, can make that path easier or more difficult. These days, a lot of folks who seem to be doing okay still feel like they’re being squeezed by an unseen force, trying to nudge them into choices that aren’t their own.
This Guy Makes Julian Castro Look Like a Household Name
Running for president is the hot new trend, apparently, and everybody’s doing it. “Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods and a longtime Republican donor, is testing the waters for a possible third-party presidential bid that could scramble the dynamics of the 2020 general election.”
This guy is so obscure that Joe Sestak, Andrew Messam, and Irving Schmidlap have never heard of him.
To his credit, I loved him on Unsolved Mysteries. Oh, wait, that was Robert Stack.
ADDENDUM: Ever see a man dunk on an entire league? Last night, Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday came to the defense of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and made almost everyone else associated with the NBA look like a bunch of cowards.