William Taylor, the top US diplomat to Ukraine, says he worried about a "nightmare" scenario in which Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gave in to Donald Trump's demands to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, only for the American president to continue withholding military aid to the former Soviet country.
A decision to withhold aid after gaining concessions, Mr Taylor told House investigators last month during closed-door testimony, would likely please Russia, while alienating the fledgling administration of Mr Zelensky, a key US ally.
During that bombshell testimony last month, Mr Taylor told investigators he had learned "everything" — from a meeting between the two presidents to nearly $400 million in military aid — was contingent upon Mr Zelensky announcing in a public interview that he had opened an investigation into Mr Biden and his son Hunter, who previously sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at a time when the former vice president was a key payer in Ukraine policy for the Obama administration. The US president also wanted Mr Zelensky to publicly state that he was investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
But, according to the newly released transcript of Mr Taylor's testimony, the top envoy to Ukraine became concerned that a planned interview on CNN where Mr Zelensky was to announce that investigation into Mr Biden would not yield the desired results. Instead, he thought Mr Trump may simply fail to release the millions in aid for Ukraine, alienating the country and handing a diplomatic victory to Russia, which looms large in the region and has encroached on Ukrainian land.
"'The nightmare' is the scenario where president Zelensky goes out in public, makes an announcement that he's going to investigate Burisma and the election in 2016, interference in 2016 election, maybe among other things. He might put that in some series of investigations," Mr Taylor said.
He continued: "But he had to — he was going to — the nightmare was he would mention those two, take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released. That was the nightmare."
The release of Mr Taylor's testimony transcript comes just hours after House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff announced that his committee would hold the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry next week. On Wednesday, the House is expecting Mr Taylor to return alongside deputy assistant secretary George Kent. Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is expected to testify publicly next Friday.
Mr Taylor has proved a key witness to the massive shifts in influence seen in the US diplomatic approach to Ukraine, and told investigators that he saw an influence split developing after he joined as the top diplomat to Ukraine earlier this year.
Among other things, he testified that he was aware that former ambassador Ms Yovanovitch had been removed from her post for what appeared to be political reasons, after a concerted effort by Rudy Giuliani and others to influence secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And, during much of his testimony, he described his interactions with Gordon Sondland, an ally of the president's who is the US ambassador to the European Union.
Mr Sondland is among three individuals tapped by the president to focus on Ukraine policy, alongside Energy secretary Rick Perry and Kurt Volker, another diplomatic worker towards Ukraine. Mr Sondland has testified that the president was demanding a quid pro quo over the Biden investigation.
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