Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door deposition Tuesday as part of the Trump impeachment inquiry and amid great interest from lawmakers over his past text messages discussing whether President Trump was engaged in a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine.
Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, did not answer shouted questions as he entered a Capitol hearing room. Taylor delivered a long opening statement to House investigators, Fox News was told.
According to sources, the State Department tried to keep Taylor from testifying. But the Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena, making Tuesday’s appearance a “deposition.” Taylor is complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both sides.
Text messages recently turned over to Congress showed Taylor and other U.S. officials battling internally last month over Trump’s efforts to encourage Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s past business practices in the country amid discussions over U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Hunter Biden is the son of Joe Biden, the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor said in a September text exchange.
U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who has also testified on Capitol Hill, responded by saying that was not what was happening: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”
Both men then agreed to cease discussing the matter over text, noting that phone calls with the appropriate officials would be preferable.
Congressional Democrats on Tuesday said they wanted more information on the text messages.
“Well, I would want to know exactly what he was thinking when he, you know, wrote that text,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State, told reporters, adding, “we need to understand everything that happened before he sent that text and everything that happened after.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Democrats of restricting access to the transcripts from the interviews they’ve been conducting as part of the impeachment inquiry.
“Just when you thought the process couldn’t get any more unfair, we found out last night that Democrats will now not even allow Republicans to have a copy of the respective transcripts from each of the witnesses we’ve interviewed thus far,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, claiming that Republicans can’t make copies and can only read them while under supervision by Democratic staffers.
Taylor was tapped to run the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine after the administration abruptly ousted the ambassador. He was then drawn into a Trump administration effort to hold up U.S. military aid for Ukraine.
Taylor had been serving as executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kiev after Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was removed before the end of her term following a campaign against her led by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
He was chosen for the post because he was among a handful of former officials with experience in Ukraine who would be perceived as neutral by local officials and wouldn’t raise objections at the White House, according to a colleague.
Taylor had served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
Trump had his now-famous phone conversation in July with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he pressed him to investigate claims about Democratic rival Joe Biden, as well as issues related to election interference in 2016. Trump at the time had quietly put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine was counting on in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Sally Persons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.