‘Overheard Phone Call’ Raises Questions About Classified Info, Privilege

Bill Taylor (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP / Getty)
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP / Getty

U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor raised eyebrows at the first public impeachment inquiry on Wednesday when he raised new evidence that he had not mentioned in his closed-door deposition last month: a staffer overhead a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, the day after the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked about “investigations.” Taylor said that his staffer told him that Sondland said “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine.

Taylor said:

Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26. While Ambassador Volker and I visited the front, this member of my staff accompanied Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland met with Mr. Yermak.

Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about “the investigations.” Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. At the time I gave my deposition on October 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness. As the Committee knows, I reported this information through counsel to the State Department’s Legal Adviser, as well as to counsel for both the Majority and the Minority on the Committee. It is my understanding that the Committee is following up on this matter.

That staffer, David Holmes, has now been called to testify in the impeachment inquiry in a closed-door hearing.

The information does not add anything substantive to what is already known from the transcript, other than Sondland’s third-hand opinion. Republicans have already criticized the information as hearsay.

But it is worse than that. Direct communications between the president and senior officials, including ambassadors, are often classified. Moreover, the president would likely have an executive privilege over those communications.

All of the witnesses have been repeatedly advised not to share classified information. The White House has also preserved its right to exert executive privilege — a point that was made repeatedly in the closed-door sessions (whose transcripts are still being released).

Opinions may differ as to whether Taylor’s testimony actually violated classification rules or privilege. But it is not clear whether the committee considered those aspects of his testimony.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This post has been corrected to reflect that Holmes will be testifying in a closed-door hearing, apparently Friday.

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