News & Analysis

Top US diplomat in Ukraine offers explosive testimony about Trump-Zelensky scandal

Support from the United States to Ukraine was “explicitly tied” to the country’s willingness to investigate former US vice president and Democratic presidential hopeful for 2020 Joe Biden, one of the main political rivals of US president Donald Trump, Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, has told a panel of congressional lawmakers in the US House, confirming what the US Democrats claim to be a quid-pro-quo in their impeachment inquiry.

Speaking in a testimony described as “bombshell” and “dramatic” by the US media, Mr Taylor said that the US relationship with Ukraine “was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular informal channel of US policy-making, and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons.”

According to him, this irregular diplomatic channel, which included Mr Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, US energy secretary Rick Perry and US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, tried to influence the administration of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky with the aim of pushing him to publicly announce the launch of an investigation into the dealings of Mr Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Mr Taylor backed up a previous deposition given by former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker that a potential White House meeting with the US president, long desired by Mr Zelensky, was conditional to him making a statement about launching corruption probes against the Bidens.

“In fact, ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” the top US diplomat stressed.

Mr Taylor said that Mr Sondland reached out to the Ukrainian president’s staff, saying that if they did not “clear things up” then they would be at a “stalemate.”

“I understood a stalemate to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with president Zelensky agreeing to make a public statement in an interview with CNN,” he continued.

His testimony is the latest of a series of congressional hearings which have taken place since US House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against Mr Trump, claiming that the US president withheld 400 million US dollars of foreign and security aid to Ukraine unless Ukrainian authorities investigate Mr Trump’s claims.

“The push to make President Zelensky publicly commit to investigations of Burisma [the gas company] showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr Giuliani,” the statement of the testimony reads.

“Neither he [ambassador Taylor] or any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld. You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo,” Mr Trump reacted in a tweet.

It has also been reported that the Ukrainian president was “already worried” about pressure from his US counterpart as early as April, two weeks before his inauguration.

Unnamed sources familiar with the Ukrainian presidential administration told the Associated Press that Mr Zelensky had a three-hour long discussion with senior staff members, including presidential aides Andrey Yermak and Andrey Bogdan on May 7, discussing how to “navigate the insistence” of the US president and Mr Giuliani on investigating Mr Biden and to avoid being involved in the 2020 US presidential election.