Bill Taylor was everything Democrats hoped he would be. And everything Republicans feared he might be.
Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, was credible, serious, frank and deeply specific during his day-long testimony on Capitol Hill about his concerns regarding President Donald Trump’s behavior toward top Ukrainian officials. Chris Cillizza specially for the CNN.
Taylor’s opening statement, which spanned better than a half hour, was a tour de force of damaging details for the President — culminating in a new revelation that an aide had overheard US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on the phone with the President on July 26 making clear that the Ukrainians were prepared to play ball. And that, when asked about Trump’s views on Ukraine, Sondland had told the aide that the President was primarily focused on getting investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden started.
Democrats, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (California) largely just used their question time to allow Taylor to confirm and/or restate the timeline of events he laid out in scrupulous detail in his opening statement. How he first heard of the hold put on more than $400 million in US aid to Ukraine. How he realized that an “irregular” diplomatic channel — led by Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — had been opened up with Ukraine. How it became increasingly clear to him that Trump and those close to the President were seeking to leverage the political power of the United States to pressure a foreign country to dig up dirt on a possible 2020 rival.
Republicans on the committee did their best to disrupt the momentum that Taylor’s opening statement had created by noting that all of his concerns were based on things conveyed to him second- and third-hand, and that because nothing ever came of these asks from Trump — and Ukraine got the aid anyway — that this was all a big nothingburger.
The GOP interrogators had limited success — Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s rapid-fire questioning strategy was probably the most effective — because Taylor simply would not be ruffled. He repeatedly told Republicans that he wasn’t there to make broad proclamations about whether the President deserved to be impeached or to speak for experiences from other people. He admitted there were things he didn’t know. He was candid and honest.
In short: Taylor was deeply credible. Not just for what he said but for who he is — a lifelong diplomat appointed by presidents of both parties to senior diplomatic circles. At the top of his graduating class from the US Military Academy at West Point, and a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Trump has — and will — accuse anyone who testifies in the House impeachment hearings as a “Never Trumper” or a member of the so-called “deep state” or worse. And there will be a decent chunk of his base that swallows those descriptions whole — facts be damned.
But it’s very difficult to read Taylor’s opening statement, watch any of his testimony or scan his resume and believe that this accomplished but unassuming man is somehow motivated by his hatred of Trump rather than his love of country. This is someone with long and deep experience in diplomatic circles. Someone who has never been an irritant in the past. And someone who was deeply affected by what he saw and heard around that July 25 phone call.
So, when Taylor said Wednesday that he had never — in his career — seen this sort of blatant attempt to use the power of the presidency for personal political gain, it meant something. And nothing good for Trump.