You’ve heard the conventional wisdom from the pundits on TV, that Trump is finally going to be impeached because this time it’s easy to understand the crimes he’s accused of. That’s true as far as it goes, but the real reason we’re going to impeach his sorry ass is because a couple of people stood up and said, “That’s enough.”
This is what it takes, finally, to catch a crook like Trump: a few of our fellow citizens acting with courage, in the national interest. It never happened during the Russia investigation. Mueller had to drag evidence out of people scrap by scrap by arresting them on lesser crimes like lying to the FBI and then flipping them. That’s why he could never get Trump for collaborating with the Russian government to steal the election of 2016. Because while there were no doubt witnesses, there were no whistleblowers.
So what’s different now? Well, the answer is to be found in the timeline of what we might call the Ukraine scandal.
The first mistake Trump made was back in May when he forced out the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She is a longtime foreign service officer who previously served as deputy chief of mission in Ukraine under President George W. Bush. With no ambassador in Kyiv, Trump turned to his secretary of state to appoint a placeholder. That was his second mistake, because Mike Pompeo, looking for someone safe, someone he could count on to keep his head down and follow orders, turned in June to one of his fellow West Pointers, William B. Taylor, and sent him to Ukraine as chargé d’affaires.
This is a time-honored tradition among West Pointers, to rely on the mythical, but very real, “WPPA,” the West Point Protective Association. You assume that if someone went to West Point and lived by the same code of honor as a cadet you did, that you can count on them to still live by that code. Pompeo was right about Bill Taylor. He still lives by the honor code. Unfortunately for Pompeo, it’s not the same code our secretary of state has adopted in service to Donald Trump.
Taylor and I were classmates at West Point. His father was a West Point classmate of my father’s. We went to the same high school, Mount Vernon, in Virginia, and Bill was our senior class president. Bill had a distinguished career at West Point. He was in the top 1 percent of the class. He was made a cadet battalion commander as a senior and was widely predicted by all who knew him to become the first general officer in our class, and by many to eventually become chief of staff of the Army.
It came as a surprise to many in our class that after completing his service obligation in the Army, Bill resigned his commission and entered the Kennedy School at Harvard where he took a masters degree in international relations. After that, he joined the State Department and served all over the world. He was director of the office of Iraq reconstruction in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005, and head of USAID in Kabul from 2002 to 2003. He was chief coordinator for the U.S. assistance to the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe from 1992 to 2002. He went on to serve as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. He knew the country. He knew the players. On paper, at least, he must have looked like an ideal pick to replace Yovanovitch.
I wrote a long story about Bill in 1976 when I had a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to do a study of my class at West Point after more than 50 percent of them had resigned from the Army. Bill, like many in the class, was disillusioned by his experience in Vietnam, and by the leadership of the Army, which he saw as corrupted by the war and careerism. It was a shock to many in our class when he handed in his resignation, but I have to say I wasn’t shocked. Bill was one of the smartest guys in our class, and he was thoughtful and willing to question things he found wrong, and to stand up and do the right thing when the time came.
Almost immediately after Trump fired Yovanovitch, word leaked to the New York Times that Rudy Giuliani was planning on traveling to Ukraine to look for help in digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Soon after that, Attorney General William Barr announced that he was beginning an investigation into the origins of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump had been following crackpot conspiracy theories that somehow it hadn’t been Russia who hacked the 2016 election but rather Ukraine, and that the Democrats were behind the whole thing.
In mid-July, Trump ordered his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid the Congress had appropriated for Ukraine. Trump had dispatched the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, to Ukraine to help Giuliani and Kurt Volker, his “special envoy” to Kyiv, in their machinations to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden and his son.
On July 19, Volker sent a text message to Sondland about the upcoming call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said he had had breakfast with Giuliani and had discussed calling Andriy Yermak, a close friend and adviser to Zelensky, about what they wanted from him. “Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation — and address any specific personnel issues — if there are any,” Volker texted.
Taylor was apparently aware of this exchange, because two days later, on July 21 — and only four days before the call between Zelensky and Trump — he sent Sondland a text warning him that they were headed down a dangerous path with the new Ukrainian president: “President Zelenskyy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”
Sondland, who had contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration through a chain of LLC’s intended to obscure the source of the money, and who had no diplomatic experience whatsoever, replied: “Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I’m worried about the alternative.”
You bet he was. He was worried that Trump would have his ass if he didn’t deliver Zelensky on a platter, ready to do Trump’s bidding by agreeing to investigate the Bidens.
Later that week, Volker told one of Zelensky’s aides that the Ukrainian president had to “investigate” and “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016” before Trump would agree to a meeting.
Things got worse from there. By Sept. 1, Bill Taylor was worried enough about the pressure being put on Zelensky that he texted Sondland, “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
A worried Sondland tersely replied, “Call me.”
By Sept. 9, Taylor was warning Sondland that his patience was wearing thin: “The 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. Thus my nightmare scenario.”
Then Taylor did what no one to my knowledge in the Trump administration had yet done. Referring to a scenario in which Ukraine gave in to some but not all of Trump’s demands, Taylor threatened to quit. “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)”
Taylor told Sondland he was “counting on” Sondand coming through on the U.S. commitments to Ukraine. Sondland said that he couldn’t guarantee anything: “we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Lets hope it works” — “it” being Ukraine getting the promised military aid after its government agreed to go to work for Trump.
Shocked by the conspiracy to violate American national security he had witnessed, Taylor replied less than an hour later, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
We now know that after receiving Taylor’s text, Sondland picked up the phone and spoke personally with Donald Trump. Five hours would pass before he responded to Taylor, sounding as if he (and Trump) were unsure of Taylor’s loyalties and were already working on a cover-up. “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.”
Exactly two days later, the hold on the military aid to Ukraine was suddenly released with no explanation. Two days after that, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff sent a subpoena to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, demanding that he release the whistleblower complaint exposing the call between Trump and Zelensky. Ten days later, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced an inquiry into impeaching Donald Trump.
Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday. Attorneys for the whistleblower are said to be working out details for testimony to be given either in person or in writing soon. Bill Taylor has not yet been subpoenaed, but I’m sure he’s counting on receiving one any day.
That is how fast things move when one person has the courage to blow the whistle, and another has the courage to call out a corrupt scheme when he sees one. They are patriots. We owe them.