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A top U.S. diplomat confirms Ukraine call smoking gun in “most damning testimony” ever heard

A top U.S. diplomat confirms Ukraine call smoking gun in “most damning testimony” ever heard

As executive branch officials decide to defy the White House’s prohibition against cooperating with the House impeachment inquiries and honor congressional subpoenas, Donald Trump’s denials of wrongdoing in attempting to leverage military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his political rivals seem harder and harder to swallow.

This morning, William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine since Marie Yovanovitch was removed due to pressure from Rudy Giuliani, ignored State Department attempts to prevent his testimony in a closed-door session before the House Intelligence Committee and honored the subpoena form Congress.

“The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel his testimony this morning,” said an official working on the impeachment investigations, who requested anonymity to discuss the arrangements, according to The Washington Post. “As is required of him, Ambassador Taylor is now complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both Democratic and Republican Members and staff.”

In a 15-page opening statement, Taylor provided some of the most incriminating evidence yet against the president and reportedly inspired “sighs and gasps” in the hearing chamber as he described “how pervasive the efforts were to tie an investigation of Burisma and 2016 election ‘interference’ to a White House meeting and aid being released.”

“It was just the most damning testimony I’ve heard,” Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

Burisma is the Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and the target of Trump’s attempts to illegally gather opposition research through a quid pro quo exchange with the Ukraine government.

Add your name to tell Congress to investigate Pence for his role in Trump’s Ukraine corruption. The VP is complicit!

Based on Taylor’s opening statement alone, prior to any questioning by the assembled representatives, members of the Intelligence Committee gave their candid reactions to reporters as they spoke during breaks in the proceedings.

Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) characterized Taylor’s testimony as “incredibly damaging to the president.” 

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) was unequivocal in her assessment of the acting ambassador’s statement.

“I do not know how you would listen to today’s testimony by the ambassador, Ambassador Taylor, and draw any other conclusion, except that the President abused his power,” she said.

Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI) called today’s closed-door hearing “my most disturbing day in Congress so far, very troubling.”

Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told CNN that “The arrows continue to point in one direction,” in confirming the allegations included in the complaint from the intelligence community whistleblower about Trump’s call to President Volodymyr Zelensky and its aftermath.

“The body language of the people hearing it was ‘holy s—,’ seriously,” said Congressman Harley Rouda (D-CA).

Among the questions that Taylor is likely to be asked after his opening statement are inquiries into the text messages that he exchanged with other senior diplomats in the Trump administration that worried about Ukraine being “used as an instrument” to gain political advantage in the 2020 elections and questions about his text that read: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Ambassador Taylor appeared to confirm the accounts of the existence of a quid pro quo between the release of American military aid to Ukraine and that country’s launch of an investigation into the Bidens, in a statement that attendees considered “damning” to the president.

“During that phone call, Amb. Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Taylor said in his opening statement.

Rather than the “lynching,” as Trump claims the impeachment inquiry can be characterized, the House Intelligence Committee is finally unearthing the facts from the people actually involved in the day-to-day execution of the president’s nefarious scheme. The word that Trump was looking for was not “lynching,” but justice.

Expect more news from this breaking story as Ambassador Taylor continues to testify.

You can read the transcript of acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor’s testimony before congress here: Taylor Congressional Testimony

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.

Original reporting by Anne Gearan and John Wagner at The Washington Post and by Mark Sumner at Daily Kos.

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