In the wake of testimony by William Taylor, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, to House investigators Oct. 22 that amounted to a gut-shot to President Trump’s insistence that he had not made U.S. military aid contingent on an investigation by the President of that nation into matters including the dealings there of Joe Biden and his son in 2016, the response from the White House was as telling as it was predictable.
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “President Trump has done nothing wrong—this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”
Similar themes were plumbed by Mr. Trump’s off-payroll flacks from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. While Mr. Trump’s cheering squad on “Fox and Friends” seemed more consumed by how quickly Ambassador Taylor’s testimony was leaked than by its substance, New York Post columnist Betsy McCaughey referred to “a stream of disgruntled career diplomats” who, she wrote, “think they, not Trump, ought to be running foreign policy. Never mind impeachment. The most pressing constitutional issue is who decides the nation’s foreign policy, the president or the permanent bureaucracy…Disagreeing with the foreign-policy elites is not an impeachable offense.”
Cowboy Rudy’s Outlaw Diplomacy
Words like “bureaucrats” and “elites” are meant to appeal to the faux populists who remain a key part of Mr. Trump’s base and those not buying The Post because it offers the most-comprehensive sports coverage among the New York daily papers. But the point behind Mr. Taylor’s impassioned testimony was that the foreign-service professionals like himself have found themselves co-opted in a very-sensitive part of the world from the standpoint of U.S. security interests by the likes of Cowboy Rudy Giuliani and his recently indicted posse of U.S. businessmen with Ukrainian roots.
It’s not a recent occurrence attributable to age or wine that our former Mayor has gone off the deep end with his eye-popping bursts of rudeness that alternate with statements undercutting both his own credibility and that of the President whose legal interests he is supposed to be protecting. Until his steady presence on 9/11, his second term at City Hall was besmirched by his ugly habit of ignoring those who tried to keep his administration on the straight and narrow and then, when that tendency created serious embarrassments, either denying he’d been warned or deriding those who blew the whistle as not only disgruntled—to borrow Ms. McCaughey’s word—but lackluster employees.
If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, then trying to discredit your in-house critics as incompetent or ideologically biased is the safe house for those caught with their hands in the cookie jar—a weakness that cuts across party lines and counts Mayor de Blasio among those who indulge.
Mr. Giuliani’s criminal prosecution of numerous politicians on municipal corruption charges in the mid-1980s led Mayor Ed Koch to revamp the Department of Investigation, which until then had focused largely on low-level illicit activity in city agencies, to prevent recurrences of the scandal that so deeply embarrassed him that he later admitted he briefly considered suicide. During Mr. Koch’s final four years in office and David Dinkins’s only term, DOI became an effective watchdog because its Commissioners were not afraid of bringing cases that could reflect poorly on the Mayor’s.
After unseating Mr. Dinkins in their 1993 rematch, Mr. Giuliani took pains to make sure his top watchdogs didn’t create similar headaches for him. He picked Howard Wilson, who worked with him at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for the job, then included him in his morning staff meetings, where discussions often turned to how to get even with the Mayor’s critics and political opponents.
That continued for Mr. Wilson’s successor, Ed Kuriansky. He had compiled a strong record as the state’s Special Prosecutor for Medicaid Fraud, but his crusading spirit got lost in the transition. After a press conference in the late 1990s highlighting a bust of a low-level Parks Department official, Mr. Kuriansky approached me to complain that after complimenting his work for the state, I had basically accused him of going into the tank for his current boss.
I responded, “Prove me wrong.”
Ignored Warning on Kerik
He never did. It wasn’t that Mr. Kuriansky looked the other way completely. In 2000, when the Mayor was choosing a new Police Commissioner and the candidates were Correction Commissioner Bernie Kerik—his former campaign driver in 1993—and the far-better qualified First Deputy Police Commissioner Joe Dunne, Mr. Kuriansky alerted him to the fact that Mr. Kerik had looked to assist two mob-connected businessmen in obtaining a city license to run a waste-transfer station in Staten Island.
In late 2004, after Mr. Giuliani persuaded President George W. Bush to nominate Mr. Kerik as his Secretary of Homeland Security, Bernie abruptly withdrew his name from consideration, citing a “nanny problem.” Reporters subsequently exposed a bigger issue: the mob-linked brothers, Frank and Peter DiTomasso, had paid for $165,000 in renovations for a Riverdale apartment where the then-Correction Commissioner lived. City investigators spoke with Mr. Kuriansky, who told them he had briefed Mr. Giuliani about Mr. Kerik’s intervention.
The ex-Mayor told reporters he had not been briefed about the conflict of interest, but added, quite curiously, that even if he had known he might have chosen Mr. Kerik anyway.
Placed before a grand jury in 2006, Mr. Giuliani testified under oath that he vaguely recalled the briefing. Asked a year later, after Mr. Kuriansky had died, whether he remembered the Investigation Commissioner giving him details about the background of the DiTommaso brothers and Mr. Kerik’s work on their behalf, he said he had no independent recollection of it, but if Mr. Kuriansky’s diaries indicated it had happened, it must be true. After Mr. Kerik was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office once headed by Mr. Giuliani for the apartment help from both the DiTommaso brothers and a developer who also had business before the city, as well as lying to aides to President Bush during his interview for the Homeland Security job, Rudy acknowledged that for all his good qualities, his former aide could be “really challenged” ethically.
Anyone wondering why, if he believed that prior to the indictment and subsequent conviction that sent Mr. Kerik to prison in Maryland for nearly four years, Mr. Giuliani pushed him for the Homeland Security job, this would have put his old friend in a position to award lucrative security contracts of the kind that the ex-Mayor’s consulting business could handle.
If his ignoring Mr. Kuriansky’s warning devalued the Investigation Commissioner’s work, that at least amounted to a private slight. Another ranking official who was the source of unwelcome news for the Mayor, then-Brooklyn Buildings Commissioner Joseph Trivisonno, wound up being treated by Mr. Giuliani as if he were guilty of wrongdoing rather than having acted to curb it.
One City, One Standard
In 1998, Mr. Trivisonno antagonized some Hasidic developers with his strict enforcement of the Building Code, the developers—who were players in the strong financial and political support Mr. Giuliani received in the Orthodox Jewish community—complained to Bruce Teitelbaum, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.
Mr. Teitelbaum pressured then-Buildings Commissioner Gaston Silva to oust Mr. Trivisonno, who initially resisted. After two other top Giuliani aides, including Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, blocked Mr. Silva’s attempts to grant staffers promotions or pay raises, he finally got the message and transferred Mr. Trivisonno from his post.
A year later, after a Williamsburg building being constructed by another Hasidic developer collapsed and killed an undocumented Mexican laborer, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes launched a probe into whether top aides to the Mayor acted improperly to reward political supporters, and Mr. Trivisonno’s travails were reported by the Daily News. Mr. Giuliani responded by claiming that the 33-year veteran of city government was demoted because he was a bad employee. Mr. Trivisonno retired a short time later; contacted the following year for a follow-up story, he told me his difficulty in finding another job in the wake of infuriating Mr. Giuliani with his honesty made him reluctant to say anything further.
And so if our former Mayor does not have quite as extensive and inglorious a track record as Mr. Trump when it comes to mistreating those who worked for him, he’s nonetheless been around that block often enough to have no qualms about disregarding the advice and wishes of those who are experts in their field and stand in the way of his objectives.
Lately, though, this tendency to bully those with scruples has begun catching up to him and the President. Ambassador Taylor was merely the most-dramatic of the career diplomats to bear witness against the activities of these two partners in undermining American honor.
‘Partners’ Did Her In
On Oct. 11, Marie Yovanovitch told a House hearing on possible impeachment of Mr. Trump that two Ukrainian businessmen indicted a day earlier, who had been partners of Mr. Giuliani’s in trying to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden, had engineered her removal as Ambassador to Ukraine after 33 months in the job because they “believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.” She testified that the Deputy Secretary of State told her that “there had been a concerted campaign against me” even though “he also said that I had done nothing wrong.”
She told the hearing in her opening statement, “Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the President, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. Government chose to remove an Ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Ms. Yovanovitch went on to say, “Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within…We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably…The harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain, not the public good. The harm will come when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. In such circumstances, the only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia, that spread chaos and attack the institutions and norms that the U.S. helped create and which we have benefited from for the last 75 years.”
As damaging as her rhetoric was to Mr. Trump and his enablers, the man who succeeded her, Ambassador Taylor, provided hard evidence, based on contemporaneous notes he took after replacing her in July, that came far closer to offering a smoking gun.
The two of them shared one interesting distinction: they both served as diplomats during the administrations of six Presidents, four of them Republicans, starting with Ronald Reagan.
Combat Vet in Vietnam
Mr. Taylor after attending West Point served as an infantry officer for six years, with a hitch with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, and later worked for the U.S. Senate and NATO before his career with the State Department took him to such trouble spots as Afghanistan, Iraq, Jerusalem and Ukraine.
He said in his opening statement that “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.”
Noting that for the last five years, that country had been “under armed attack from Russia,” he said that “the security assistance we provide is crucial to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression.”
Referring to Mr. Trump’s having held back $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that had been authorized by Congress because he wanted its President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to announce that he would investigate corruption concerning matters from the Bidens’ dealing in that nation to whether Ukraine, rather than Russia, had been involved in interference with the 2016 presidential election, Ambassador Taylor said that on Sept. 9 he had texted U.S. European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland “that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be ‘crazy.’“
Noting that he previous served as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine for most of George W. Bush’s second term, he said that its being able to break free of Russian influence would make the difference between Europe being “free and democratic” and Russia again becoming “an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”
He testified that he agreed to replace Ms. Yovanovitch, convinced “I could be effective only if the U.S. policy of strong support for Ukraine…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…”
Mr. Taylor said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “assured me that the policy of strong support for Ukraine would continue and that he would support me in defending that policy.”
Rudy Led the ‘Irregulars’
When he arrived in Kiev, however, he said that although the normal diplomatic process there “consistently had strong, bipartisan support both in Congress and in all administrations since Ukraine’s independent from Russia in 1991,” he found that an “irregular informal channel” also existed, “one which included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani…it became clear to me by August that the channels had diverged in their objectives.”
While President Zelensky had been promised a meeting by President Trump in a congratulatory letter May 29, Mr. Taylor noted, a month letter Ambassador Sondland “told me during a phone conversation that President Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that he…was not standing in the way of ‘investigations.’“ He said that Mr. Sondland subsequently took steps to ensure that none of the usual interagency participants was part of a conversation the next day with Mr. Zelensky, and that “no one was transcribing or monitoring” the call.
“By mid-July,” he told congressional investigators, “it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma [the firm on whose board Hunter Biden sat] 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. Giuliani.”
Before then, he said, he had met with Mr. Zelensky’s Chief of Staff and Foreign Minister, “who told me that they had heard from Mr. Giuliani that the phone call between the two presidents was unlikely to happen…” In a July 18 National Security Council phone call, he said a woman identifying herself as a staffer with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget said 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…The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy.”
The NSC, he continued, was unanimous in believing the aid should be resumed, and a subsequent analysis by the Defense Department supported that conclusion. But Ambassador Sondland insisted that “investigations” would have to be publicly pledged by President Zelensky before an Oval Office meeting was scheduled with Mr. Trump. This prompted then-National Security Adviser John Bolton to end the meeting, saying he would not be involved in what he called a “drug deal” and instructing then-Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill and NSC Director of European Affairs Alex Vindman “that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics.”
A day after that meeting, Ambassador Taylor said, he was told by Mr. Sondland that he advised President Zelensky to say “I will leave no stone unturned” when discussing “investigations” with the President.
The View From the Front
Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Trump had their infamous conversation July 25. A day later, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Volker went to the front line in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, where they “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.”
By Aug. 22, when the military aid had not been released, Mr. Taylor asked Mr. Morrison whether there had been a wavering in U.S. support for Ukraine and was told that the “President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.” After speaking with Mr. Bolton, he sent a cable to Secretary of State Pompeo regarding “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.”
In a subsequent conversation with Ambassador Sondland, he was told that “everything” was dependent on President Zelensky announcing investigations and that Mr. Trump wanted this so as to put the Ukrainian President “in a public box.”
Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker would later argue to him, Mr. Taylor said that, that the President was merely acting like a businessman who wanted a commitment from “someone who owes him something” before writing him a check.
“I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for political gain was ‘crazy,’“ Ambassador Taylor stated.
Two days later, on Sept. 11, the authorized military aid was finally provided.
Mr. Trump responded to Mr. Taylor’s testimony by calling it “a lynching,” demonstrating again his boundless capacity for self-pity at the expense of all sense of proportion.
When Mr. Giuliani withdrew his name from consideration for Secretary of State shortly before the President took office, one of the reasons put forward by sources was that there were doubts, because of the former Mayor’s overseas business associations, that he could gain Senate confirmation, even with a Republican majority in that body. Mr. Taylor’s account strongly suggested that Mr. Giuliani was performing that job anyway for Mr. Trump outside the “regular channel” and had succeeded in having Ms. Yovanovitch removed because she was too honest to suit him and his since-indicted business partners.
Bad Comparison for Trump
So Mr. Trump’s rage was understandable: he could scream about the “deep state” all he wanted, but in a confrontation that pitted Ms. Yovanovitch—whose parents had fled both Communist and Nazi regimes—and Mr. Taylor, who had served in combat in Vietnam, against Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, both of whom had used connections to avoid the draft 50 years ago, it was going to be hard to plausibly claim that people the president’s spokeswoman derided as “radical unelected bureaucrats” were the unpatriotic ones.
Especially not when Mr. Trump’s actions concerning the Ukraine, as well as his decision to remove American troops from Syria where they had been a bulwark for Kurdish forces, served to benefit hostile regimes—including, in both cases, that of his good buddy Vladimir Putin.
It was why John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and former editorial-page editor of The Post, wrote that Ambassador Taylor’s testimony “sealed the deal” that Mr. Trump would be impeached.”
“There’s no need to talk about the ‘whistleblower’ and his findings any longer…We have a veteran U.S. diplomat on the record saying that a Trump intimate told him Trump was holding up congressionally authorized and appropriated military aid to Ukraine because he wanted a public statement from the Zelensky government that it was investigating Joe Biden’s son,” Mr. Podhoretz explained. “That’s the ballgame…In doing this Trump was contravening U.S. law, which does not give the president the right to deny Ukraine the money appropriated by Congress for Ukraine.”
Even if Republican Senators prevented Mr. Trump from being removed from office, the column concluded, his being the third President to be impeached “will be bad enough.”
Why Mr. Trump has taken this course, beyond his retaining the mentality of a spoiled adolescent with no loyalty to anyone but himself, probably lies in the tax returns and other documents and witness testimony by past and present aides he continues desperately trying to suppress.
As to how Mr. Giuliani has degenerated from someone once admired as a man of the law and a leader into the first mate on a pirate ship, that may stem from guilt accumulated over the years about compromises, betrayals and mistakes with grievous consequences that he labored furiously to suppress, until the efforts left him as warped as the man he now serves so poorly.
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