Opening Statement of Ambassador William B. Taylor – October 22, 2019
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to provide my
perspective on the events that are the subject of the Committees’ inquiry. My sole
purpose is to provide the Committees with my views about the strategic
importance of Ukraine to the United States as well as additional information about
the incidents in question.
I have dedicated my life to serving U.S. interests at home and abroad in both
military and civilian roles. My background and experience are nonpartisan and I
have been honored to serve under every administration, Republican and
Democratic, since 1985.
For 50 years, I have served the country, starting as a cadet at West Point, then as an
infantry officer for six years, including with the 101st Airborne Division in
Vietnam; then at the Department of Energy; then as a member of a Senate staff;
then at NATO; then with the State Department here and abroad in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Jerusalem, and Ukraine; and more recently, as Executive Vice President of
the nonpartisan United States Institute of Peace.
While I have served in many places and in different capacities, I have a particular
interest in and respect for the importance of our country’s relationship with
Ukraine. Our national security demands that this relationship remain strong.
However, in August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned
that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an
irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making and by the withholding of vital
security assistance for domestic political reasons. I hope my remarks today will
help the Committees understand why I believed that to be the case.
At the outset, I would like to convey several key points. First, Ukraine is a
strategic partner of the United States, important for the security of our country as
well as Europe. Second, Ukraine is, right at this moment—while we sit in this
room—and for the last five years, under armed attack from Russia. Third, the
security assistance we provide is crucial to Ukraine’s defense against Russian
aggression, and, more importantly, sends a signal to Ukrainians—and Russians—
that we are Ukraine’s reliable strategic partner. And finally, as the Committees are
now aware, I said on September 9 in a message to Ambassador Gordon Sondland
that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political
campaign in the United States would be “crazy.” I believed that then, and I still
Let me now provide the Committees a chronology of the events that led to my
On May 28 of this year, I met with Secretary Mike Pompeo who asked me to
return to Kyiv to lead our embassy in Ukraine. It was—and is—a critical time in
U.S.-Ukraine relations: Volodymyr Zelenskyy had just been elected president and
Ukraine remained at war with Russia. As the summer approached, a new
Ukrainian government would be seated, parliamentary elections were imminent,
and the Ukrainian political trajectory would be set for the next several years.
I had served as Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, having been nominated
by George W. Bush, and, in the intervening 10 years, I have stayed engaged with
Ukraine, visiting frequently since 2013 as a board member of a small Ukrainian
non-governmental organization supporting good governance and reform. Across
the responsibilities I have had in public service, Ukraine is special for me, and
Secretary Pompeo’s offer to return as Chief of Mission was compelling. I am
convinced of the profound importance of Ukraine to the security of the United
States and Europe for two related reasons:
First, if Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for
Europe to be whole, free, democratic, and at peace. In contrast, if Russia
dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people,
and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.
Second, with the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the continued aggression in
Donbas, Russia violated countless treaties, ignored all commitments, and
dismissed all the principles that have kept the peace and contributed to prosperity
in Europe since World War II. To restore Ukraine’s independence, Russia must
leave Ukraine. This has been and should continue to be a bipartisan U.S. foreign
When I was serving outside of government during the Obama administration and
after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, I joined two other former
ambassadors to Ukraine in urging Obama administration officials at the State
Department, Defense Department, and other agencies to provide lethal defensive
weapons to Ukraine in order to deter further Russian aggression. I also supported
much stronger sanctions against Russia.
All to say, I cared about Ukraine’s future and the important U.S. interests there.
So, when Secretary Pompeo asked me to go back to Kyiv, I wanted to say “yes.”
But it was not an easy decision. The former Ambassador, Masha Yovanovitch,
had been treated poorly, caught in a web of political machinations both in Kyiv and
in Washington. I feared that those problems were still present. When I talked to
her about accepting the offer, however, she urged me to go, both for policy reasons
and for the morale of the embassy.
Before answering the Secretary, I consulted both my wife and a respected former
senior Republican official who has been a mentor to me. I will tell you that my
wife, in no uncertain terms, strongly opposed the idea. The mentor counseled: if
your country asks you to do something, you do it—if you can be effective.
I could be effective only if the U.S. policy of strong support for Ukraine—strong
diplomatic support along with robust security, economic, and technical
assistance—were to continue and if I had the backing of the Secretary of State to
implement that policy. I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of
Rudolph Giuliani, who had made several high-profile statements about Ukraine
and U.S. policy toward the country. So during my meeting with Secretary Pompeo
on May 28, I made clear to him and the others present that if U.S. policy toward
Ukraine changed, he would not want me posted there and I could not stay. He
assured me that the policy of strong support for Ukraine would continue and that
he would support me in defending that policy.
With that understanding, I agreed to go back to Kyiv. Because I was appointed by
the Secretary but not reconfirmed by the Senate, my official position was Chargé
d’Affaires ad interim.
I returned to Kyiv on June 17, carrying the original copy of a letter President
Trump signed the day after I met with the Secretary. In that letter, President
Trump congratulated President Zelenskyy on his election victory and invited him
to a meeting in the Oval Office. I also brought with me a framed copy of the
Secretary’s declaration that the United States would never recognize the illegal
Russian annexation of Crimea.
But once I arrived in Kyiv, I discovered a weird combination of encouraging,
confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances.
First, the encouraging: President Zelenskyy was taking over Ukraine in a hurry.
He had appointed reformist ministers and supported long-stalled anti-corruption
legislation. He took quick executive action, including opening Ukraine’s High
Anti-Corruption Court, which was established under the previous presidential
administration but never allowed to operate. He called snap parliamentary
elections—his party was so new it had no representation in the Rada—and later
won an overwhelming mandate, controlling 60 percent of the seats. With his new
parliamentary majority, President Zelenskyy changed the Ukrainian constitution to
remove absolute immunity from Rada deputies, which had been the source of raw
corruption for two decades. There was much excitement in Kyiv that this time
things could be different—a new Ukraine might finally be breaking from its
corrupt, post-Soviet past.
And yet, I found a confusing and unusual arrangement for making U.S. policy
towards Ukraine. There appeared to be two channels of U.S. policy-making and
implementation, one regular and one highly irregular. As the Chief of Mission, I
had authority over the regular, formal diplomatic processes, including the bulk of
the U.S. effort to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion and to help it defeat
corruption. This regular channel of U.S. policy-making has consistently had
strong, bipartisan support both in Congress and in all administrations since
Ukraine’s independence from Russia in 1991.
At the same time, however, there was an irregular, informal channel of U.S.
policy-making with respect to Ukraine, one which included then-Special Envoy
Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I
subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani. I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was
also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland
included me in certain conversations. Although this irregular channel was well-
connected in Washington, it operated mostly outside of official State Department
channels. This irregular channel began when Ambassador Volker, Ambassador
Sondland, Secretary Perry, and Senator Ron-Johnson briefed President Trump on
May 23 upon their return from President Zelenskyy’s inauguration. The delegation
returned to Washington enthusiastic about the new Ukrainian president and urged
President Trump to meet with him early on to cement the U.S.-Ukraine
relationship. But from what I understood, President Trump did not share their
enthusiasm for a meeting with Mr. Zelenskyy.
When I first arrived in Kyiv, in June and July, the actions of both the regular and
the irregular channels of foreign policy served the same goal—a strong U.S.-Ukraine partnership—but it became clear to me by August that the channels had
diverged in their objectives. As this occurred, I became increasingly concerned.
In late June, one the goals of both channels was to facilitate a visit by President
Zelenskyy to the White House for a meeting with President Trump, which
President Trump had promised in his congratulatory letter of May 29. The
Ukrainians were clearly eager for the meeting to happen. During a conference call
with Ambassador Volker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and
Eurasian Affairs Phil Reeker, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Sondland, and
Counselor of the U.S. Department of State Ulrich Brechbuhl on June 18, it was
clear that a meeting between the two presidents was an agreed-upon goal.
But during my subsequent communications with Ambassadors Volker and
Sondland, they relayed to me that the President “wanted to hear from Zelenskyy”
before scheduling the meeting in the Oval Office. It was not clear to me what this
On June 27, Ambassador Sondland told me during a phone conversation that
President Zelenskyy needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President
Zelenskyy, was not standing, in the way of “investigations.”
I sensed something odd when Ambassador Sondland told me on June 28 that he
did not wish to include most of the regular interagency participants in a call
planned with President Zelenskyy later that day. Ambassador Sondland,
Ambassador Volker, Secretary Perry, and I were on this call, dialing in from
different locations. However, Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to make
sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelenskyy to
the call. Also, before President Zelenskyy joined the call, Ambassador Volker
separately told the U.S. participants that he, Ambassador Volker, planned to be
explicit with President Zelenskyy in a one-on-one meeting in Toronto on July 2
about what President Zelenskyy should do to get the White House meeting. Again,
it was not clear to me on that call what this meant, but Ambassador Volker noted
that he would relay that President Trump wanted to see rule of law, transparency,
but also, specifically, cooperation on investigations to “get to the bottom of
things.” Once President Zelenskyy joined the call, the conversation was focused
on energy policy and the Stanytsia-Luhanska bridge. President Zelenskyy also
said he looked forward to the White House visit President Trump had offered in his
May 29 letter.
I reported on this call to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who had
responsibility for Ukraine, and I wrote a memo for the record dated June 30 that
summarized our conversation with President Zelenskyy.
By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskyy
wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian
interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. It was also clear that this condition was
driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr.
On July 10, Ukrainian officials Alexander Danyliuk, the Ukrainian national
security advisor, and Andriy Yermak, an assistant to President Zelenskyy, and
Secretary Perry, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, Ambassador Volker,
and Ambassador Sondland met at the White House. I did not participate in the
meeting and did not receive a readout of it until speaking with the National
Security Council’s (NSC’s) then-Senior Director for European and Russian
Affairs, Fiona Hill, and the NSC’s Director of European Affairs, Alex Vindman,
on July 19.
On July 10 in Kyiv, I met with President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andrei
Bohdan, and then-foreign policy advisor to the president and now Foreign Minister
Vadym Prystaiko, who told me that they had heard from Mr. Giuliani that the
phone call between the two presidents was unlikely to happen and that they were
alarmed and disappointed. I relayed their concerns to Counselor Brechbuhl.
In a regular NSC secure video-conference call on July 18, I heard a staff person
from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) say that there was a hold on
security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of an
otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call—the person was off-screen—said
that she was from OMB and that her boss had instructed her not to approve any
additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice. I and
others sat in astonishment—the Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted
on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support. All
that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the President
to the Chief of Staff to OMB. In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of
our strong support for Ukraine was threatened. The irregular policy channel was
running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy.
There followed a series of NSC-led interagency meetings, starting at the staff level
and quickly reaching the level of Cabinet secretaries. At every meeting, the
unanimous conclusion was that the security assistance should be resumed, the hold
lifted. At one point, the Defense Department was asked to perform an analysis of
the effectiveness of the assistance. Within a day, the Defense Department came
back with the determination that the assistance was effective and should be
resumed. My understanding, was that the Secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA
Director, and the National Security Advisor sought a joint meeting with the
President to convince him to release the hold, but such a meeting was hard to
schedule and the hold lasted well into September.
The next day on the phone, Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman tried to reassure me that
they were not aware of any official change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, OMB’s
announcement notwithstanding. They did confirm that the hold on security
assistance for Ukraine came from Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and that the Chief
of Staff maintained a skeptical view of Ukraine.
In the same July 19 phone call, they gave me an account of the July 10 meeting
with the Ukrainian officials at the White House. Specifically, they told me that
Ambassador Sondland had connected “investigations” with an Oval Office meeting
for President Zelenskyy, which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly
ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman that they should have nothing
to do with domestic politics. He also directed Dr. Hill to “brief the lawyers.” Dr.
Hill said that Ambassador Bolton referred to this as a “drug deal” after the July 10
meeting. Ambassador Bolton opposed a call between President Zelenskyy and
President Trump out of concern that it “would be a disaster.”
Needless to say, the Ukrainians in the meetings were confused. Ambassador
Bolton, in the regular Ukraine policy decision-making channel, wanted to talk
about security, energy, and reform; Ambassador Sondland, a participant in the
irregular channel, wanted to talk about the connection between a White House
meeting and Ukrainian investigations.
Also during our July 19 call, Dr. Hill informed me that Ambassador Volker had
met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss Ukraine. This caught me by surprise. The next
day I asked Ambassador Volker about that meeting, but received no response. I
began to sense that the two decision making channels—the regular and irregular—
were separate and at odds.
Later on July 19 and in the early morning of July 20 (Kyiv time), I received text
messages on a three-way WhatsApp text conversation with Ambassadors Volker
and Sondland, a record of which l understand has already been provided to the
Committees by Ambassador Volker. Ambassador Sondland said that a call
between President Trump and President Zelenskyy would take place soon.
Ambassador Volker said that what was “[m]ost impt is for Zelensky to say that he
will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are
Later on July 20, I had a phone conversation with Ambassador Sondland while he
was on a train from Paris to London. Ambassador Sondland told me that he had
recommended to President Zelenskyy that he use the phrase, “I will leave no stone
unturned” with regard to “investigations” when President Zelenskyy spoke with
Also on July 20, I had a phone conversation with Mr. Danyliuk, during which he
conveyed to me that President Zelenskyy did not want to be used as a pawn in a
U.S. re-election campaign. The next day I texted both Ambassadors Volker and
Sondland about President Zelenskyy’s concern.
On July 25, President Trump and President Zelenskyy had the long-awaited phone
conversation. Strangely, even though I was Chief of Mission and was scheduled to
meet with President Zelenskyy along with Ambassador Volker the following day, I
received no readout of the call from the White House. The Ukrainian government
issued a short, cryptic summary.
During a previously planned July 26 meeting, President Zelenskyy told
Ambassador Volker and me that he was happy with the call but did not elaborate.
President Zelenskyy then asked about the face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office
as promised in the May 29 letter from President Trump.
After our meeting with President Zelenskyy, Ambassador Volker and I traveled to
the front line in northern Donbas to receive a briefing from the commander of the
forces on the line of contact. Arriving for the briefing in the military headquarters,
the commander thanked us for security assistance, but I was aware that this
assistance was on hold, which made me uncomfortable.
Ambassador Volker and I could see the armed and hostile Russian-led forces on
the other side of the damaged bridge across the line of contact. Over 13,000
Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would
undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance.
Although I spent the morning of July 26 with President Zelenskyy and other
Ukrainian officials, the first summary of the Trump-Zelenskyy call that I heard
from anybody inside the U.S. government was during a phone call I had with Tim
Morrison, Dr. Hill’s recent replacement at the NSC, on July 28. Mr. Morrison told
me that the call “could have been better” and that President Trump had suggested
that President Zelenskyy or his staff meet with Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General
William Barr. I did not see any official readout of the call until it was publicly
released on September 25.
On August 16, I exchanged text messages with Ambassador Volker in which I
learned that Mr. Yermak had asked that the United States submit an official request
for an investigation into Burisma’s alleged violations of Ukrainian law, if that is
what the United States desired. A formal U.S. request to the Ukrainians to conduct
an investigation based on violations of their own law struck me as improper, and I
recommended to Ambassador Volker that we “stay clear.” To find out the legal
aspects of the question, however, I gave him the name of a Deputy Assistant
Attorney General whom I thought would be the proper point of contact for seeking
a U.S. referral for a foreign investigation.
By mid-August, because the security assistance had been held for over a month for
no reason that I could discern, I was beginning to fear that the longstanding U.S.
policy of strong support for Ukraine was shifting. I called Counselor Brechbuhl to
discuss this on August 21. He said that he was not aware of a change of U.S.
policy but would check on the status of the security assistance. My concerns
deepened the next day, on August 22, during a phone conversation with Mr.
Morrison. I asked him if there had been a change in policy of strong support for
Ukraine, to which he responded, “it remains to be seen.” He also told me during
this call that the “President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.” That
was extremely troubling to me. As I had told Secretary Pompeo in May, if the
policy of strong support for Ukraine were to change, I would have to resign. Based
on my call with Mr. Morrison, I was preparing to do so.
Just days later, on August 27, Ambassador Bolton arrived in Kyiv and met with
President Zelenskyy. During their meeting, security assistance was not
discussed—amazingly, news of the hold did not leak out until August 29. I, on the
other hand, was all too aware of and still troubled by the hold. Near the end of
Ambassador Bolton’s visit, I asked to meet him privately, during which I
expressed to him my serious concern about the withholding of military assistance
to Ukraine while the Ukrainians were defending their country from Russian
aggression. Ambassador Bolton recommended that I send a first-person cable to
Secretary Pompeo directly, relaying my concerns. I wrote and transmitted such a
cable on August 29, describing the “folly” I saw in withholding military aid to
Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was
watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian
government. I told the Secretary that I could not and would not defend such a
policy. Although I received no specific response, I heard that soon thereafter, the
Secretary carried the cable with him to a meeting at the White House focused on
security assistance for Ukraine.
The same day that I sent my cable to the Secretary, August 29, Mr. Yermak
contacted me and was very concerned, asking about the withheld security
assistance. The hold that the White House had placed on the assistance had just
been made public that day in a Politico story. At that point, I was embarrassed that
I could give him no explanation for why it was withheld.
It had still not occurred to me that the hold on security assistance could be related
to the “investigations.” That, however, would soon change.
On September 1, just three days after my cable to Secretary Pompeo, President
Zelenskyy met Vice President Pence at a bilateral meeting in Warsaw. President
Trump had planned to travel to Warsaw but at the last minute had cancelled
because of Hurricane Dorian. Just hours before the Pence-Zelenskyy meeting, I
contacted Mr. Danyliuk to let him know that the delay of U.S. security assistance
was an “all or nothing” proposition, in the sense that if the White House did not lift
the hold prior to the end of the fiscal year (September 30), the funds would expire
and Ukraine would receive nothing. I was hopeful that at the bilateral meeting or
shortly thereafter, the White House would lift the hold, but this was not to be.
Indeed, I received a readout of the Pence-Zelenskyy meeting over the phone from
Mr. Morrison, during which he told me President Zelenskyy had opened the
meeting by asking the Vice President about security cooperation. The Vice
President did not respond substantively, but said that he would talk to President
Trump that night. The Vice President did say that President Trump wanted the
Europeans to do more to support Ukraine and that he wanted the Ukrainians to do
more to fight corruption.
During this same phone call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a
conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak at Warsaw.
Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would
not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.
I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation.
This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance—not
just the White House meeting—was conditioned on the investigations.
Very concerned, on that same day I sent Ambassador Sondland a text message
asking if “we [are] now saying that security assistance and [a] WH meeting are
conditioned on investigations?” Ambassador Sondland responded asking me to
call him, which I did. During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that
President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly
that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the
2016 U.S. election.
Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a
mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White
House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement
of investigations—in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, “everything” was dependent
on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President
Trump wanted President Zelenskyy “in a public box” by making a public statement
about ordering such investigations.
In the same September 1 call, I told Ambassador Sondland that President Trump
should have more respect for another head of state and that what he described was
not in the interest of either President Trump or President Zelenskyy. At that point I
asked Ambassador Sondland to push back on President Trump’s demand.
Ambassador Sondland pledged to try. We also discussed the possibility that the
Ukrainian Prosecutor General, rather than President Zelenskyy, would make a
statement about investigations, potentially in coordination with Attorney General
Barr’s probe into the investigation of interference in the 2016 elections.
The next day, September 2, Mr. Morrison called to inform me that Mr. Danyliuk
had asked him to come to his hotel room in Warsaw, where Mr. Danyliuk
expressed concern about the possible loss of U.S. support for Ukraine. In
particular, Mr. Morrison relayed to me that the inability of any U.S. officials to
respond to the Ukrainians’ explicit questions about security assistance was
troubling them. I was experiencing the same tension in my dealings with the
Ukrainians, including during a meeting, I had had with Ukrainian Defense Minister
Andriy Zagordnyuk that day.
During my call with Mr. Morrison on September 2, I also briefed Mr. Morrison on
what Ambassador Sondland had told me during, our call the day prior.
On September 5, I hosted Senators Johnson and Murphy for a visit to Kyiv.
During their visit, we met with President Zelenskyy. His first question to the
senators was about the withheld security assistance. My recollection of the
meeting is that both senators stressed that bipartisan support for Ukraine in
Washington was Ukraine’s most important strategic asset and that President
Zelenskyy should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn into U.S.
I had been making (and continue to make) this point to all of my Ukrainian official
contacts. But the push to make President Zelenskyy publicly commit to
investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed
how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular
efforts led by Mr. Giuliani.
Two days later, on September 7, I had a conversation with Mr. Morrison in which
he described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland
and President Trump. Mr. Morrison said that he had a “sinking feeling” after
learning about this conversation from Ambassador Sondland. According to Mr.
Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a
“quid pro quo.” But President Trump did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a
microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election
interference, and that President Zelenskyy should want to do this himself. Mr.
Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone
call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.
The following day, on September 8, Ambassador Sondland and I spoke on the
phone. He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week
earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself,
had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a
“quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President
Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro
quo, if President Zelenskyy did not “clear things up” in public, we would be at a
“stalemate.” I understood a “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive
the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this
conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing to make a public
statement in an interview with CNN.
After the call with Ambassador Sondland on September 8, I expressed my strong
reservations in a text message to Ambassador Sondland, stating that my
“nightmare is they [the Ukrainians] give the interview and don’t get the security
assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.).” I was serious.
The next day, I said to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker that “[t]he message to
the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is
key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us.” I also said, “I think
it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Ambassador Sondland responded about five hours later that I was “incorrect about
President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro
quo’s of any kind.”
Before these text messages, during our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland
tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman
is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the
businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador
Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta
European Strategy Conference. I argued to both that the explanation made no
sense: the Ukrainians did not “owe” President Trump anything, and holding up
security assistance for domestic political gain was “crazy,” as I had said in my text
message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.
Finally, I learned on September 11 that the hold had been lifted and that the
security assistance would be provided.
After I learned that the security assistance was released on September 11, I
personally conveyed the news to President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister
Prystaiko. And I again reminded Mr. Yermak of the high strategic value of
bipartisan support for Ukraine and the importance of not getting involved in other
countries’ elections. My fear at the time was that since Ambassador Sondland had
told me President Zelenskyy already agreed to do a CNN interview, President
Zelenskyy would make a statement regarding “investigations” that would have
played into domestic U.S. politics. I sought to confirm through Mr. Danyliuk that
President Zelenskyy was not planning to give such an interview to the media.
While Mr. Danyliuk initially confirmed that on September 12, I noticed during a
meeting on the morning of September 13 at President Zelenskyy’s office that Mr.
Yermak looked uncomfortable in response to the question. Again, I asked Mr.
Danyliuk to confirm that there would be no CNN interview, which he did.
On September 25 at the UN General Assembly session in New York City,
President Trump met President Zelenskyy face-to-face. He also released the
transcript of the July 25 call. The United States gave the Ukrainians virtually no
notice of the release, and they were livid. Although this was the first time I had
seen the details of President Trump’s July 25 call with President Zelenskyy, in
which he mentioned Vice President Biden, I had come to understand well before
then that “investigations” was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used
to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and
I recognize that this is a rather lengthy recitation of the events of the past few
months told from my vantage point in Kyiv. But I also recognize the importance
of the matters your Committees are investigating, and I hope that this chronology
will provide some framework for your questions.
I wish to conclude by returning to the points I made at the outset. Ukraine is
important to the security of the United States. It has been attacked by Russia,
which continues its aggression against Ukraine. If we believe in the principle of
sovereignty of nations on which our security and the security of our friends and
allies depends, we must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor.
Russian aggression cannot stand.
There are two Ukraine stories today. The first is the one we are discussing this
morning and that you have been hearing for the past two weeks. It is a rancorous
story about whistleblowers, Mr. Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption,
and interference in elections. In this story Ukraine is an object.
But there is another Ukraine story—a positive, bipartisan one. In this second story,
Ukraine is the subject. This one is about young people in a young nation,
struggling to break free of its past, hopeful that their new government will finally
usher in a new Ukraine, proud of its independence from Russia, eager to join
Western institutions and enjoy a more secure and prosperous life. This story
describes a nation developing an inclusive, democratic nationalism, not unlike
what we in America, in our best moments, feel about our diverse country—less
concerned about what language we speak, what religion if any we practice, where
our parents and grandparents came from; more concerned about building a new
Because of the strategic importance of Ukraine in our effort to create a whole, free
Europe, we, through Republican and Democratic administrations over three
decades, have supported Ukraine. Congress has been generous over the years with
assistance funding, both civilian and military, and political support. With
overwhelming bipartisan majorities, Congress has supported Ukraine with harsh
sanctions on Russia for invading and occupying Ukraine. We can be proud of that
support and that we have stood up to a dictator’s aggression against a democratic
It is this second story that I would like to leave you with today.
And I am glad to answer your questions.