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US diplomat testifies Trump tied Ukraine aid to politically motivated probes

The top American diplomat in Ukraine testified on Tuesday that President Donald Trump made the release of U.S. security aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations that he demanded.

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The comments by William Taylor, a career diplomat and former Army officer who serves as the charge d'affaires in the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, were in a copy of his statement to lawmakers posted online by U.S. media.

Taylor's statement to the three Democratic-led House of Representatives committees leading an impeachment inquiry against the Republican president marked a pivotal development in the political drama unfolding in Washington that threatens Trump's presidency even as he pursues re-election.

It ran counter to Trump's contention that there was no quid pro quo – a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor – related to the $391 million in security assistance approved by the U.S. Congress to help combat Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that Trump had withheld.

"It was the most damning testimony," Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz told Reuters.

In closed-door testimony, Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. envoy to the European Union, that Trump had linked release of the aid to public declarations by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he would investigate Trump's domestic political rival Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

Zelenskiy agreed to the request. The aid was later released.

"There was no quid pro quo," said White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. "Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats' politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings."

In his testimony, Taylor detailed numerous conversations and events and emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine as it faces Russian aggression.

Previously released text messages that Taylor sent to other senior U.S. officials denounced as "crazy" the idea of withholding the security aid to benefit a domestic political campaign.

In his testimony, Taylor emphatically reiterated that view.

The House inquiry is focusing on Trump's request during a July 25 telephone call with Zelenskiy that he investigate the Bidens.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Republican Trump. Hunter Biden had served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Taylor said Trump also made a White House invitation to Zelenskiy contingent on announcing the investigations.

The content of the phone call was first revealed by a whistleblower within a U.S. intelligence agency, who submitted a report saying Trump pressured Zelenskiy to advance his personal political interests.

Trump also publicly asked China to investigate the Bidens.

Federal election law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.

Direct line'

Wasserman Schultz said Taylor "drew the most direct line that I've heard from President Trump to the withholding of foreign aid to a vital diplomatic partner … and tying the withholding of that funding and the meeting that President Zelenskiy wanted to President Zelenskiy declaring that he would open investigations into the Burisma Biden issue and the 2016 election."

Trump has denied any quid pro quo or wrongdoing and accused Democrats of trying to oust him to prevent him from being re-elected.

However, his acting chief of staff last week acknowledged that the aid was contingent on Ukraine investigating a discredited theory that there is a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server in Ukraine.

In his opening statement, Taylor said, "Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskiy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election."

The "alleged Ukrainian interference" is a reference to a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. intelligence agencies and a special counsel investigation concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump's candidacy in 2016.

Taylor had mentioned his concerns over the withholding of U.S. aid on Sept. 9 to Sondland and Kurt Volker, the State Department's former special envoy to Ukraine, in a text message provided to House investigators and later made public.

"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote in the text message.

A rancorous story'

On Tuesday, Taylor told lawmakers that Trump's administration had established an "irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making" that ran counter to stated diplomatic goals.

Taylor described this channel as including Trump's personal lawyer Rudy GiuRead More – Source

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