Earlier this morning, I was on Twitter and spotted this claim from Rep. Ted Lieu:
LIEU just emerged and described Taylor’s testimony as “incredibly damaging to the president.” Wouldn’t provide specifics. He said questioning of the witness has begun.
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) October 22, 2019
Notice the complete lack of specifics from Lieu, who hasn’t been shy before about helping spread leaks from these hearings that he feels are damaging to President Trump. That should have been the first tip off that there’s some posturing going on here.
Now, we are getting our first details and this appears to be as much of a dud as Kurt Volker’s testimony was.
New: Bill Taylor testified he was told by Sondland that security aid to Ukraine could have been held up in part because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation that could help Trump politically, per sources in both parties https://t.co/HpenaM2qQs
— Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) October 22, 2019
Because this is CNN, they try to word it in the most sinister way, but the details in the article don’t back up much of that characterization, as we’ll get to in a moment. Further, the idea that Trump was pushing for something that could help him “politically” is pure editorializing. You can make that assumption, but there’s no evidence of that provided.
Let’s dive in here.
In a lengthy and detailed opening statement, Taylor said that he and Sondland spoke by phone about why the aid was frozen, and Sondland cited the need for Ukraine to open an investigation among other reasons, according to the sources. Sondland told Taylor that the investigations potentially included both Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, the sources said.
As has been previously stated by the administration, the aid was in question due to three reasons – Investigations into 2016 behavior, Europe not doing enough, and corruption involving Burisma.
While CNN wants to paint this as definitive, it’s actually anything but. In fact, Sondland testified under oath that even his statements to Taylor about the investigations into 2016 and Burisma were speculation.
Asked about Taylor’s comments, a source familiar with Sondland’s testimony said that Sondland cited, in addition to the investigations, that the aid may have been frozen because the Europeans weren’t giving Ukraine enough and corruption in general. The source said Sondland was only speculating when he referenced the political investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma.
“He made very clear in his testimony that nobody would give him a straight answer” about why the aid was being held up, the source said about Sondland’s testimony.
If you are asking yourself what’s new here, you aren’t alone. We already knew what Taylor thought was going on, largely spurned by things he was reading in the press and secondary conversations. In the end, though, Taylor’s impressions are irrelevant unless backed up by direct evidence and he provides none. He didn’t provide any documents in his testimony at all.
Taylor is not bringing any new documents to the committee, and he will just reference those that have already been made public, the source said.
In other words, Taylor’s entire contribution to this mess adds up to his impressions about conversations that are already public. No proof of any political motive is provided and that’s the required element here to make any of this improper.
Nowhere in the testimony is it indicated (and if it existed, Democrats would be leaking it) that Taylor possessed anything proving an actual improper quid pro quo. The 2020 election is not mentioned. Political motives are not mentioned. Those need to exist to prove impropriety because as I pointed out in previous writings, all foreign policy is a quid pro quo. Screaming “quid pro quo” over and over is not an argument for impeachment. One can assume bad motives on Trump’s part, but that would need to be proven.
This was the Democrats’ biggest hope for an impeachment bombshell. Bill Taylor was supposed to come in, based on previously released text messages, and provide some semblance of evidence that Trump had done something illegal (or even improper) here. Instead, it seems he provided nothing of value at all outside of giving CNN and Democrats a few lines to mold into their narrative.
For all the Democrats and Republicans rushing to call this a bombshell, the challenge is simple: Prove the political motive. That’s it. If you can do that, he’ll not only be impeached but probably removed. Yet, in Taylor’s testimony, it’s simply not there.
Things are becoming more and more clear as these “witnesses” shuffle through. There’s nothing here that isn’t built on assumption. None of that is dispositive of anything. Democrats will have to move forward with impeachment, but it’s going to come in the form of nothing but innuendo and non-provable supposition. It’s the Mueller investigation all over again.
This is another thing to notice. In the end, what Taylor says is what Taylor says, but it’s not factual until it’s proven. If there are conflicts, those will need to be worked out and Taylor qualifies some of his statements carefully.
Note reliance on qualifiers & hearsay in this thread about Taylor’s testimony & its conflict w/ Sondland’s (looks like things will come down to that conflict): “was told” “could” “among other reasons” “potentially” “only speculating” “potentially included” https://t.co/MLdY0pjoGg pic.twitter.com/hsANI6XE4i
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) October 22, 2019