By the time acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor appears before the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow to publicly detail President Donald Trump's extortion of Ukraine for his own personal political gain, the president's team of malarkey artists will have taken their customary best shot at character assassination, spewing the kind of nonsense that most fourth graders instinctively know is beneath them. Trump will have an uphill battle discrediting Taylor's profoundly damaging testimony, but one can rest assured that the facts will not deter him.
Taylor has been the classic patriot, and his personal courage in serving and defending his country contrasts rather sharply with the Prince of Bone Spurs' occupation of the Oval Office. Taylor's career began at West Point, and he spent six years as an infantry officer including with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam before going on to serve Republican and Democratic presidents alike in high-level diplomatic assignments. Taylor is the quintessential straight arrow, quite a difference from the sleaze stew that is the Trump administration.
The relentless campaign by the president and his allies to bamboozle America down to its shoes regarding his flagrant extortion of Ukraine has been every bit as corrupt as the extortion itself. First they claimed, laughably, that the whistleblower account of the president's demand that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden's son, who was serving on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, was hearsay. This was followed by the White House's own "rough transcript" of Trump's July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which confirmed the whistleblower account, followed quickly by further confirmation in Trump's own admissions and those of his chief of staff.
Next, the president maintained, equally laughably, that his demand for Ukraine's "investigation" was not linked to the release of congressionally mandated aid for Ukraine. But the July 25 transcript ("I would like you to do us a favor though") did not lie, even if the president always does, and his chief of staff admitted that Trump's demand precisely constituted a quid pro quo. Then followed a procession of State Department officials who, rejecting Trump's instructions that they keep their mouths shut about what they knew, confirmed in dispiriting detail that this was nothing more than a stickup, and one conceived, initiated and carried out by the president himself.
This week most Americans will get their first look at Bill Taylor's testimony about admissions by Trump's megadonor buddy and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, personally dispatched by Trump to tell Ukraine how things were going to be: no investigation of Biden's son, no aid. Taylor will testify that Sondland told Ukraine's president's top aide "that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation." This, in turn, came straight from Trump himself. Taylor said: "Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election." There was no ambiguity, no difference of interpretation and nothing subtle about it. As Ambassador Taylor has already testified, "Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement. ... He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky 'in a public box' by making such a public statement about ordering such investigations."
On the merits, this is a high crime and an abuse of office that cries out for Trump's impeachment and removal. He will never be removed, of course: The Republican Senate caucus, like its House counterpart, is chockablock with political eunuchs too petrified of Trump to act honestly on the evidence. But Trump, who decried the closed-door Intelligence Committee depositions as "secret," now denounces the decision to hold public hearings, where the evidence against him will be laid out for all to see. No wonder. The evidence against him is not going to be pretty.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.