Not in Westchester?
December 7, 2019
Celebrate the holidays by supporting local news. Use code GIFTOFJOURNALISM at checkout. Ends 12/31/19.

Politics

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney questioning William Taylor, now acting ambassador to Ukraine on Wednesday, Nov. 12 before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, left, questioned DNI Maguire in September before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Westchester Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney Takes Leading Role In House Impeachment Inquiry

Maybe you were at work and unable to tune into, watch or listen to Wednesday's opening day of public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.  Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, whose 18th Congressional District includes northern Westchester County and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was there.

As part of the House impeachment inquiry, Maloney questioned William Taylor, chargé d’affaires and now acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, two witnesses subpoenaed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

A video of Maloney's questioning can be viewed by clicking here. 

Here are excerpts from :Maloney's exchange with William Taylor (and George Kent below):

Maloney: What year did you graduate from West Point?

Ambassador Taylor: 1969, sir.

Maloney: That was the height of the Vietnam War, wasn't it, sir?

Taylor: The height was about that time.

Maloney: What was your class rank at West Point?

Taylor: I was number five.

Maloney: How many people were in your class?

Taylor: 800.

Maloney: 800 cadets, you were number five.

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: So when you're top 1 percent of your class at West Point, you probably get your pick of assignments, but you picked the infantry.

Taylor: I did, sir.

Maloney: You were a rifle company commander.

Taylor: Yes sir.

Maloney: Where'd you serve?

Taylor: In Vietnam.

Maloney: Did you see combat in Vietnam, sir?

Taylor: I did.

Maloney: Did you earn any commendations for that service?

Taylor: I was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, which I'm proudest of. There was a Bronze Star. There was an Air Medal.

Maloney: That's for valor, isn't it, sir?

Taylor: It is.

Maloney: Let's talk about July 26th, lot of years later, you go to the front, you go to Donbass with Ambassador Volker I believe, and you're on the bridge, and you're looking over on the front line at the Russian soldiers, is that what you recall?

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: And you said the commander there, the Ukrainian commander thanked you for the American military assistance that you knew was being withheld at that moment.

Taylor: That's correct.

Maloney: How'd that make you feel, sir?

Taylor: Badly.

Maloney: Why?

Taylor: Because it was clear that that commander counted on us. It was clear that that commander had confidence in us. It was clear that that commander was appreciative of the capabilities that he was given by that assistance but also the reassurance that we were supporting him.

Maloney: You don't strike me as a quitter, Ambassador, but you threatened to resign, or you mentioned it in your statement. Before I ask you about that, let's just talk about a couple days later -- excuse me – one month later -- on August 28th. You find yourself in Ukraine with the National Security Advisor Mr. Bolton, right?

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: And you convey to him your concerns. You've testified to this previously about the withholding of military assistance. What does he say to you?

Taylor: He says that he shares my concern, and he advises me to express that in a very special way to the Secretary of State.

Maloney: Now, he's the National Security Advisor, works directly with the President, but he tells you that you should bring it up with the Secretary of State.

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: Have you ever sent a cable like that? How many times in your career of 40-50 years have you sent a cable directly to the Secretary of State?

Taylor: Once

Maloney: This time?

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: In 50 years?

Taylor: Rifle company commanders don't send cables but yes, sir. (Audience in Hoiuse committee chamber laugh audibly.

Maloney: So the National Security Advisor who can tell it to the President himself and who shares your concern says you, the Ambassador serving in Ukraine, should cable the Secretary of State directly and you do so, don't you?

Taylor: Yes, sir.

Maloney: What'd the cable say, sir?

Taylor: It's a classified cable.

Maloney: Without going into classified information.

Taylor: Without going into classified, it says security assistance, it's what we've been talking about today, security assistance to Ukraine at this particular time, as in previous times, is very important. Ukraine – I also make the point that we've also talked about here today – Ukraine is important for our national security. And we should support it. Not to provide that would be folly.

Maloney: Did you get an answer to your cable?

Taylor: Not directly, no, sir.

Maloney: Do you know what happened to it? Secretary Kent, do you know what happened to it?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent: I was on vacation when his cable came in but my understanding is it made it to the recipient, Secretary (Mike) Pompeo.

Maloney: And we know Pompeo was on the call on July 25th. It's not like he's in the dark about any of this. What'd he do with it?

Kent: I honestly can't say for sure what happened with the cable once the message was brought in at the highest level.

Maloney: One other question, gentlemen. On September 1st, you recall a meeting between the Vice President and the President of Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky, in which right off the bat the President of Ukraine raises security assistance and the Vice President according to your telling says I'll talk to the President about that tonight. I'll make a call. Do you know whether the Vice President made that call?

Taylor: I don't know, sir.

Maloney: Do you know what, if anything, the Vice President had to do with, any of this? What more can you tell us about the Vice President's role in this? Do you know if he ever raised this issue with anyone in the administration? Whether he ever pushed for the release of that security assistance?

Taylor: I can't sir.

Kent: I believe to the best of my understanding the Vice President was an advocate for the release of the assistance.

Maloney: Thank you, I yield back.

House Democrats said they got what they wanted out of the first impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 12. testimony from witnesses outlining how President Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponents. Democrats said putting the two career State Department officials on the record laid groundwork to build their case that Trump abused his office for political gain.

They also gathered new evidence at the start of the hearing as Taylor, the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, testified that his staffer had overheard Trump asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about the “investigations” in a July phone call. (Sondland is due to reappear later for public testimony.)

Those investigations, Taylor said, were regarding former Vice President Joe Biden and the business dealings of his son, as well as 2016 election interference. Democrats seized on it as further proof that Trump himself was overseeing the effort.

“What this call indicates, as other testimony has likewise indicated, is that the instructions are coming from the president on down,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters after the hearing.

After six weeks of closed-door depositions, Democrats are now using open hearings to highlight their earlier findings in the public domain by focusing on what they think is the clearest, most damaging testimony.

However, Democrats aren’t finished with closed-door investigative committee interviews. The panel scheduled testimony from David Holmes, the staffer who reportedly overheard President Trump’s phone call with Sondland, on Friday Nov. 15, as well as Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official Mark Sandy on Saturday, Nov. 16.

After former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony in July initially fell flat for impeachment backers, Wednesday’s hearing offered Democrats a platform to help build their impeachment case against Trump.

Taylor said he never witnessed another example of a president conditioning foreign aid on delivering investigations — a key part of the Democrats’ investigation into whether the Trump Administration made military aid dependent on Ukraine starting the investigations into the Bidens and foreign business interests.

Kent testified that “as a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.”

And in sharp contrast to Mueller, who repeatedly referred lawmakers to his report on Russia’s election interference and deprived them of sound bites, Taylor complied with lawmakers’ requests to read aloud text messages he had sent expressing his concerns about the Trump administration holding up military aid to Ukraine.

Republicans, meanwhile, stressed that the witnesses on the stand didn’t interact directly with the president and argued that the hearing was “boring.”

“The ultimate judge will be the American people, and I think most of them will see what I’m seeing in that room. It’s reporters and people in the audience who are yawning because this is all about a policy difference between the president of the United States and a few people in the State Department,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters midway through the hearing.

The White House’s impeachment response efforts have been scattered for weeks, left largely to the whims of a mercurial president who has careened from talking point to talking point as new evidence emerged.

At first, it appeared Trump’s allies were grasping for a clear way to rebut allegations from Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent.

But toward the end of Wednesday’s hearing, a clearer line of defense came into view.

Trump and his allies seized on acknowledgements from both Taylor and Kent that they had never spoken directly with the president and the fact that some of Taylor’s most damning allegations were based on secondhand or thirdhand information.

“Dems star witnesses can’t provide any firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing by Trump]. Their own testimony contradicts the Dems false quid pro quo narrative,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted.

The Trump campaign issued a statement dismissing the testimony as “thirdhand hearsay” and ridiculing Kent and Taylor as “unelected, career government bureaucrats who think they know best.”

In his only public comments after the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearings, Trump argued that there was nothing to directly implicate him.

“They said it’s all thirdhand information. Nothing direct at all. Can’t be direct because I never said it,” Trump said during a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claiming that he had only heard about the hearings through reports.

“That this country gets put through that, that we have to waste this gentleman’s time by even thinking about it, talking about it — I’d much rather focus on peace in the Middle East,” Trump said, motioning to Erdogan. “I hear that it’s a hoax. And it’s being played as a hoax. That’s what I hear.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee who was added to the Intelligence panel last week, similarly stressed that neither of the witnesses on Wednesday had “ever talked” to Trump.

Yet Jordan defended the White House efforts to block testimony from officials with firsthand knowledge of the push for the Ukrainian government to open the investigations requested by Trump.

“These are close advisers to the president. The long history of our country is they don’t have to testify,” Jordan said.

Democrats maintained that they have nevertheless been able to corroborate the allegations in the intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry. And they argue their best piece of firsthand evidence is from Trump himself in the rough transcript of the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We have first-person information by the president releasing the summary of the telephone call. And you can look at that telephone call and then look at actions that happened after that telephone call and see what the president was doing,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “And then there’s all kinds of circumstantial evidence to prove that what they laid out was actually happening.”