Monday’s post detailed one reason for viewing skeptically the upcoming public impeachment testimony of supposed prosecution star witness William B. Taylor – evidence of his inability or unwillingness to make the crucial distinction between President Trump differing with him on a policy issue (dealing with Ukraine), and the chief executive committing an offense that warrants a House of Representatives indictment and possible removal from office by the Senate.
Today I’ll air a more serious challenge to his credibility – which I hope is highlighted into the testimony he’s scheduled to give this morning at the first session of open impeachment hearings. For whatever reason (the above failure, his crush on Ukraine), Taylor’s views on the crucial issue of uncovering U.S. campaign interference by Ukraine resulted in his taking an unacceptably one-sided position.
I can’t go so far as to accuse Taylor of deliberate partisanship – because I can’t read his mind. But his closed-door testimony to House investigators October 22 and answers to their questions showed unmistakably that his allegation of a Trump administration Ukraine military aid delay for partisan political reasons results from criteria that were capable only of producing partisan results.
Specifically, in his testimony last month, Taylor continually portrayed himself as a non-partisan career public servant who had single-mindedly pursued American objectives that lay beyond any legitimate controversy, and who was therefore determined to keep domestic politics out of U.S. foreign policy. That’s also how he’s been described by his admirers. But when it came to two such policy imperatives – uncovering election interference from a foreign government (Ukraine’s) and fighting the corruption that has crippled that country’s economy and democracy building efforts, and undermines American aid programs – Taylor’s record unquestionably skewed in favor of the Democratic party.
Despite pretty much universal American public support for preventing future foreign meddling in U.S. politics – which of course requires identifying as many sources of such previous interference as possible – Taylor not only displayed no interest in learning more about clearly documented meddling from Ukraine officials (including those remaining in power). By his own account, he seemed to refrain actively from learning anything about it.
/For example, Taylor acknowledged a deep “emotional” attachment to Ukraine and – in his words – “stayed engaged” with the country while serving in private sector positions for a decade before returning to Kyiv as a Trump administration envoy this past June. Yet he claimed that when he resumed an official role, he knew nothing about that country’s efforts to prevent Mr. Trump’s election even though the country’s ambassador to Washington had published an op-ed in The Hill newspaper in August, 2016 opposing Mr. Trump’s election bid (which was featured prominently on his embassy’s website), and even though these and other similar developments had been reported in August, 2016 by the Financial Times and in January, 2017 by Politico.
In addition, Taylor testified that he was never briefed on these matters when he took charge of the U.S. embassy in the country, and evidently never sought a briefing, either. The only meddling-related subject he had some prior knowledge of, and was briefed on, was the successful effort by a Ukraine political reformer and parliamentarian to expose off-the-books cash payments in 2005 to future Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort when he was advising and lobbying for the pro-Russian political factions.
Even so, Taylor proceeded to justify his ignorance by insisting that these activities were only undertaken by “some Ukrainians, a couple of Ukrainians….none of those were in” the country’s current administration with one exception – the powerful Interior Minister. (Actually, the envoy who published the 2016 anti-Trump article stayed in office through this past summer.) And when asked “isn’t it fair to say that, if you’re aligned with the Trump administration, isn’t it legitimate to have a good-faith belief that Ukrainians were operating against you in the 2016 election?” Taylor replied diffidently, “You could have that opinion, that some were.”
Stranger, and flimsier, still were Taylor’s stated reasons for dismissing as “help with a political campaign” and a bid for “domestic political gain” Trump administration efforts to the probe Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s lucrative dealings with a Ukraine energy firm while the former Vice President served as the Obama administration’s point man for the country.
These included a bizarre claim that rather than focusing on “individual cases” – like Hunter Biden’s service on the board of the Burisma company – America’s longstanding anti-corruption policies in general concentrated on “the importance of honest judges, of the selection process for judges, the selectjon process for prosecutors, the institutions.” And evidently, he saw no reason to make an exception even when the individual case raised the possibility of influence-peddling at the highest levels of an administration only a few years out of power.
They included the even more disturbing contention that the “irregular channel” of Trump administration Ukraine policy headed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was illegitimate because it, in his view, it “wanted to focus on one or two specific cases, irrespective of whether it helped solve the corruption problem, fight the corruption problem” – meaning that Taylor ruled out chance that a “specific case” involving the family of the former Vice President of the United States and the government of a country he insists is a vital strategic partner of the United States could warrant any special attention.
They included the confidence that Giuliani’s sole interests were strengthening influencing the upcoming presidential election rather than corruption fighting based largely on a New York Times article reporting “that Giuliani was interested in getting some information on Vice President Biden that would be useful to Mr . Giuliani’s client,” along with Taylor’s refusal to answer the question of whether it’s “possible that the request to investigate interference with the 2015 election was not to influence a future election?”
They included Taylor’s additional statement that the Trump-Giuliani probe was ipso facto inappropriately political “Because as I understood the reason for jnvestigating Burisma was to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light” – which amounts to the unacceptable position that corruption suspects should be immune from official investigations if they decide to run for office.
And they included Taylor’s attempts to avoid opining on whether “A reasonable person could conclude that there ‘is a possible perceived conflict of interest” raised by Hunter Biden’s employment at Burisma. His performance is so comically evasive that it’s worth presenting in full (starting on p. 316 of the hearing transcript and beginning with a question from a Republican committee staff member):
Q: “ You would agree that, if Burisma – if their motivation for engaging Hunter Biden for their
board was not related to his corporate governance expertise but, in fact, was hoping to buy some protection, you would agree that’s worthy of investigating, right?
A: …I don’t know why Burisma got him on the board.
Q: But if Ukrainians were engaged in misdeeds or wrongdoing with regard to putting Hunter Biden on theirboard, that could be something that could be worth investigating, right?
A: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know the relationship that he had with the board. I don’t know.
Q: Okay. And, at the time, the Vice President had a you know, policy supervision of Ukraine on some respects.
A: He was very interested in policy with Ukraine, yes.
Q: Okay. So do you see a perceived conflict of interest there?
A: I’m a fact witness. I ‘m not giving opinions on –
A: – this thing, but – so I –
Q: Is it reasonable to see a perceived conflict of interest there, or is that crazy?
A: I’ve said other things are crazy.
Q: A reasonable person could conclude that there is a possible perceived conflict of interest there, right?”
At this point, one of Taylor’s personal lawyers interjected:
“You asked him that question earlier, at the beginning, about 7-1/ 2 hours ago. It was one of the first questions you asked him. He’s already answered it.”
Again, Taylor has every right to prefer Biden’s views on Ukraine to Mr. Trump’s, and essentially to define that country’s unmistakable interference with the 2016 U.S. elections out of existence. But holding these positions while professing political neutrality take gall and sanctimony to an entirely new level. And Americans will have reason enough to be thankful for the impeachment proceedings if they indicate how widespread these views have been lately among the nation’s so-called foreign policy professionals.