President Trump and his allies in Congress pushed back against damaging revelations from diplomat Bill Taylor’s Tuesday testimony – in which the Ukraine envoy said the administration linked U.S. military aid to a call for politically related investigations in Kiev – saying the witness also acknowledged under questioning that Ukraine was initially in the dark on the aid holdup.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, asserted that this counters claims of a “quid pro quo.”
“At the end of the day, this was about quid pro quo and whether or not the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld and on that most important issue. Neither this witness or any other witness has provided any evidence that there was a quid pro quo, or any evidence that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld on July 25,” Ratcliffe said on “The Story” Tuesday night, claiming that absent testimony speaking to that point, “a quid pro quo is legally impossible.”
“You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.”
— Rep. John Ratcliffe
He was referring to the now-famous phone call on July 25 between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressed for investigations into 2016 election interference and Biden family dealings in the country, specifically Hunter Biden’s role on the board of natural gas firm Burisma Holdings.
A source familiar with the testimony confirmed to Fox News that during questioning on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Taylor said the Ukrainians did not know at the time of the call about the hold on U.S. military aid.
“The mainstream media reporting that he provided evidence of a quid pro quo involving military aid is false — I questioned him directly on that,” Ratcliffe said Tuesday. “I can’t tell you what he said … but I can tell you what he didn’t say — neither he nor any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld.”
He added: “You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.”
The president echoed Ratcliffe’s comments on Twitter early Wednesday, quoting from his appearance on Fox News.
“Where is the whistleblower? The Do Nothing Dems case is DEAD!” Trump tweeted.
However, Taylor did testify that he was told U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland informed top Ukrainian aide Andriy Yermak weeks later that “security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”
Taylor testified that he learned of the Sondland-Yermak conversation during a phone call with National Security Council aide Tim Morrison.
“I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation,” Taylor testified. “This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations.”
So according to Taylor’s testimony, the Ukraine government eventually was informed of the apparent reason for the aid delay.
That same day, Taylor said, he sent Sondland a text message asking if security assistance and a White House meeting “are conditioned on investigations,” prompting Sondland to request Taylor call him.
“During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukrain will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor testified.
“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” Taylor testified.
Throughout this, Trump still insisted he was not seeking a “quid pro quo.”
Taylor’s testimony, though, has fueled Democratic criticism amid the impeachment inquiry launched in the House last month over revelations concerning Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
Trump took heat for pressuring the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine — concerning Hunter’s role on the board of Burisma Holdings, and Joe Biden’s bid to pressure the former Ukrainian president to fire a top prosecutor who was investigating the firm. A whistleblower who first aired the allegations claimed Trump was improperly soliciting foreign aid to investigate a political opponent to ultimately influence the 2020 election.
At the heart of the debate today is whether U.S. military aid was directly tied to these requests.
The president’s request came after millions in U.S. aid to Ukraine had been frozen. But the White House and the president’s allies have denied a quid pro quo – though acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney recently seemed to say otherwise, before walking it back – and the Bidens have maintained that they did “nothing wrong.”
Democrats called Taylor’s testimony the most damaging yet.
“The testimony is very disturbing,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., used the same word. Asked why, he said, “Because it’s becoming more distinct.”
But top Republicans cited Ratcliffe’s questioning as a big moment in the hearing that undermined Taylor’s argument.
“In 90 seconds, we had John Ratcliffe destroy Taylor’s whole argument,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday in an interview Tuesday on “The Ingraham Angle.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, D-Calif., echoed the sentiment.
“The truth is, in two minutes, John Ratcliffe destroyed this witness,” Nunes said on “Hannity.” “There is no quid pro quo.”
And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said reports of Taylor’s testimony had been “laughably overblown and don’t tell the full story.”
“Still no evidence of quid pro quo. Much of the statement and hearsay allegations didn’t hold up against any real scrutiny. The FULL transcript should be released immediately,” Meadows tweeted.
Meanwhile, Taylor described the existence of an “irregular” communications channel with Ukraine led by Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, and a “weird combination of encouraging, confusing, and ultimately alarming circumstances” once he arrived in Kiev. The statement confirmed previous reporting of Taylor’s remarks by Fox News.
Fox News’ Gregg Re, Chad Pergram, Mike Emanuel, Alex Pappas, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.