House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters about the release by the White House of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump is said to have pushed for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) surely must have felt that releasing transcripts to some of the testimony in the increasingly baffling impeachment inquiry was a brilliant chess move.
But the congressman should hold off popping the champagne because the testimony isn’t quite as damning as he very likely hoped.
Take, for example, the testimony of William Taylor, the charge d’affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, who was supposed to be a key witness to the alleged quid pro quo in which Trump supposedly withheld military aide to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens’ dealings within the country.
Turns out Taylor not only never had firsthand knowledge of any quid pro quo (nor second nor even third), but he admitted that the timeline suggests a quid pro quo almost certainly never happened.
Taylor, according to the transcript, began by admitting he had no personal communication with Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, nor President Trump himself.
When asked who exactly he had spoken to about the brouhaha, Taylor confirmed that his only contacts about the matter were with John Bolton, the former national security adviser who was fired by Trump, Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman, and Tim Morrison. Both Hill and Vindman are rumored to have been sources for the so-called whistleblower who filed a complaint against Trump in August.
Taylor also testified that his knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky wasn’t first-hand knowledge.
“And this isn’t firsthand. It’s not secondhand. It’s not thirdhand,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said to Taylor. “But if I understand this correctly, you’re telling us that Tim Morrison told you that Ambassador Sondland told him that the president told Ambassador Sondland that Zelensky would have to open an investigation into Biden?”
“That’s correct,” Taylor admitted.
In fact, Zeldin even seemed to get Taylor to admit that his only source for what the President’s intention was in making the phone call to Ukraine was the New York Times.
Taylor also confirmed that no one in the Ukrainian government was aware that military aide was being withheld to them until it appeared in newspapers thanks to a leak in late August.
“So, if nobody in the Ukrainian government is aware of a military hold at the time of the Trump-Zelensky call, then, as a matter of law and as a matter of fact, there can be no quid pro quo, based on military aid,” [Texas Republican Rep. John] Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, said. “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.”
“July 25th is a week after the hold was put on the security assistance,” Taylor testified. “And July 25th, they had a conversation between the two presidents, where it was not discussed.”
“And to your knowledge, nobody in the Ukrainian government was aware of the hold?” Ratcliffe asked.
“That is correct,” Taylor responded.
Schiff, in releasing these transcripts, seems to going for transparency, and possibly trying to beat Trump at his own PR game since the President was forthcoming with the transcript of the phone call itself.
But if Schiff wants to win this chess match, he’ll need to do better than William Taylor.