A top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine suggested last month that he could “quit” his post amid concerns President Trump was withholding military aid to the country for political reasons, according to text message transcripts released by House Democrats on Thursday night.
William Taylor, who has served as chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv since June, appeared to threaten resignation in a text message exchange with two other U.S. diplomats while outlining a “nightmare scenario” surrounding ongoing negotiations to set up a meeting between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Over the summer, the other two diplomats — Kurt Volker, Trump’s then-special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — had worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani to win a statement from Zelensky addressing a pair of investigations sought by Trump.
The officials had worked to secure a commitment from Ukrainian leaders to investigate both Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed former Vice President Joe Biden‘s son on its board, as well as probe Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections of 2016. Trump has suggested Ukraine was behind the election meddling, despite the determination of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was the culprit.
In a Sept. 8 text to Volker and Sondland released by House Democrats on Thursday, Taylor voiced concerns that Ukraine would make good on providing an unspecified “interview” but that Trump would renege on providing military aid to the country.
“The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance,” Taylor texted to Volker and Sondland, according to the transcripts released by Democrats. “The Russians love it,” he added of that prospect, “(And I quit).”
The next day, Taylor warned Sondland that Trump’s previous decision to withhold almost $400 million in assistance to Ukraine had already strained relations between the two allies to the benefit of Russia, which launched an incursion into Ukraine in 2014 and still supports rebel forces in eastern parts of the country.
“The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key,” Taylor wrote. “With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. This is my nightmare scenario.”
Sondland, a hotelier and former Trump mega-donor, responded with confidence that “we have identified the best pathway forward.”
Taylor, however, was skeptical, saying “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland pushed back hard, saying Taylor was “incorrect” about Trump’s reasons for withholding the funding.
“The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Sondland wrote. “The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelenskiy promised during his campaign.”
The conversations were released late Thursday night by the Democratic chairmen of three committees leading the impeachment inquiry into allegations of misconduct against Trump.
Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), head of the Intelligence Committee, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight panel, and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Democrats accusing Trump of enlisting foreign leaders to help his reelection campaign.
“This is not normal or acceptable. It is unethical, unpatriotic, and wrong,” they wrote. “American Presidents should never press foreign powers to target their domestic political rivals.”
The document dump came just hours after the three committees had led a marathon deposition of Volker in the Capitol, where lawmakers of both parties quickly used the interview to make their case either for or against the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats said Volker provided clear evidence that Trump had tried to “shake down” Zelensky for his own political gain. Republicans countered that Volker had both exonerated the president of any wrongdoing and raised damning new questions about Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma.
“The administration is in an even stronger place today than they were this morning as a product of Ambassador Volker coming to testify,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.).
The depositions are scheduled to continue next week, when Marie Yovanovitch, Trump’s former ambassador to Ukraine, is expected to be interviewed by the same three committees.