The President Has No Defense

It’s hard to overstate how much damage the testimony of William Taylor, the U.S. envoy to Ukraine, inflicted on President Donald Trump’s defense in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

On its face, Taylor’s testimony Tuesday established the quid pro quo that Trump has denied for weeks. But more importantly, Taylor’s detailed notes of the “highly irregular” policymaking that he witnessed over the summer provide a road map to future testimony that could be even more harmful. Republicans have already begun to retreat from their “no quid pro quo” line, but they will have to keep retreating, because Taylor has almost single-handedly decimated the few witnesses who have provided some testimony that is favorable to Trump.

If I were one of the president’s lawyers, I would counsel him to admit the obvious—essentially to plead guilty and admit this was, in fact, a quid pro quo—and try and convince Congress and the public that it is not as bad as it looks. In my experience, defendants who stubbornly try to deny the obvious in the face of overwhelming evidence rarely convince anyone.

Taylor, a Trump appointee who served as an Army officer in Vietnam before embarking on a long government and diplomatic career in both Republican and Democratic administrations, testified that military aid to Ukraine appropriated by Congress—and a White House meeting sought by the Ukrainian government—were both conditioned on a public announcement of investigations that would have aided Trump politically.

Taylor was crystal clear on that point. He testified that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland—a hotel tycoon and major Trump donor—told him that Trump wanted to put Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “in a public box” by forcing him to make a public statement ordering investigations of Ukraine’s alleged role in the 2016 U.S. election as well as the gas company, Burisma, where Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member. “Everything,” Taylor said he was told, was dependent on that public announcement.

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