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Trump envoy testifies he had a ‘clear understanding’ Ukraine military aid was tied to investigations

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Acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor arrives on Capitol Hill before a closed-door hearing with members of Congress in Washington, October 22, 2019.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

A top U.S. diplomat shared broad concerns with the Trump administration’s policy toward Ukraine with lawmakers, and testified he was told military aid to the country was dependent on its government committing to investigations the president wanted, according to a transcript of his House deposition released Wednesday.

Bill Taylor, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Ukraine, spoke to lawmakers last month in a closed-door session as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry. House Democrats released his testimony a week before he was slated to appear at the investigation’s first public hearing on Nov. 13.

In his opening statement to lawmakers, Taylor said another diplomat told him the president withheld military aid as he waited for public assurances that Ukraine would launch investigations he wanted into the Biden family and allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

″’Everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said to Taylor in September, according to Taylor’s opening statement. “He said that President Trump wanted [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky in a box by making [a] public statement about ordering such investigations.”

The House has looked into whether Trump abused his power and compromised national security by urging Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the president’s chief rivals for the White House in 2020, and Biden’s son Hunter. Lawmakers have also tried to determine whether Trump withheld about $400 million in military aid in exchange for the probes from Ukraine.

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In his testimony last month, Taylor, who is acting ambassador to Ukraine, repeatedly expressed worries about the role Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, played in the administration’s dealings with Ukraine. Giuliani has pushed the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.

Taylor said that, when he took over the Ukraine post earlier this year, he found a “confusing and unusual arrangement,” which appeared to include “two channels” for crafting and implementing policy — “one regular and one highly irregular.” He later added that efforts to make Zelensky commit to probes into Burisma — a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served — and 2016 election activities “showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular effort led by Mr. Giuliani.”

Taylor said he texted Sondland and Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, on Sept. 9 in part saying he thought “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” He recounted Sondland responding five hours later that he was “incorrect” about Trump’s intentions.

“The President has been crystal clear: No quid pro quos of any kind,” Taylor said Sondland texted him.

The administration eventually released the military aid on Sept. 11.

Responding to questions during his testimony, Taylor said he had a “clear understanding” that “security assistance money would not come until [Zelensky] committed to pursue the investigation.” The diplomat added that he had concerns because he believed withholding military aid harmed not only the national security of Ukraine but also that of the U.S.

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A July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, during which the U.S. president asked his counterpart to look into the Bidens, sparked the intelligence community whistleblower complaint at the heart of the House’s impeachment probe. The person also alleged a White House effort to cover up records of the conversation.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to comment on the release of Taylor’s testimony.

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