The opening statement of Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, is “reverberating” on Capitol Hill among Republicans, according to GOP Hill sources, who told CNN that Taylor’s testimony is a game changer in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
A senior Republican source on Capitol Hill told CNN that Taylor’s statement was so detailed, so specific and that he is so respected that it is having an impact.
“It points to quid pro quo,” the GOP source told CNN.
There is an ongoing conversation among GOP members on Capitol Hill about the impact of Taylor’s testimony, but it remains a question whether it will move Republicans closer to considering impeachment.
In a closed-door deposition Tuesday, Taylor said he had been told by Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, that “everything” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted, including a White House meeting and military aid to the country, would be held up until he publicly declared investigations sought by Trump. Taylor’s statement undercut the White House’s defense that there had been no quid pro quo offered on the call, as well as Sondland’s previous testimony to Congress, but it corroborated many of the claims made by the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry.
While most Republicans have sided publicly with the President, they’ve been privately grumbling that they’re “fed up and tired” of being asked to defend him in the impeachment investigation.
Republican sources on Capitol Hill told CNN there’s a “growing unease that there is no defense” of the President’s actions.
“How do you defend the indefensible?” one source told CNN. “We can’t defend the substance, all we can do is talk about process.”
Taylor’s deposition, however, marked a turning point in what has been a difficult week for Republicans in defending the President in the impeachment probe and other matters.
Republicans were still being asked about acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney attempting last week to walk back his stunning admission to a quid pro quo involving security aid to Ukraine. Top congressional Republicans criticized Trump’s comparison of the impeachment inquiry to a “lynching.”
Another Republican congressional source said that “the testimony by Taylor was devastating and we are waiting for the next shoe to drop.”
The most significant criticism of the situation by any leading Republican had come from Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
The second-ranking senator in GOP leadership acknowledged on Wednesday that he was troubled by what Taylor had revealed.
“The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we’ve seen, I would say is not a good one,” he said.
But a day later, Thune walked back the concerns he had raised, saying Taylor’s testimony is secondhand information.
“Right now we are hearing one side of the story. Until we get the picture, it’s hard to draw any conclusions,” Thune said Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Republicans have focused less on Trump’ actions and more on railing against the Democrats’ approach to the impeachment inquiry. They have demanded the release of transcripts from closed-door interviews and complained about not being able to call their own witnesses.
The inquiry, led by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, has interviewed witnesses in private and limited access to the testimonies to members who serve on three House committees: Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs.
However, there are 48 Republicans on the committees.