Politics

Diplomat Bill Taylor reveals Trump discussed Biden probe with EU ambassador day after July 25 Ukraine call

Key Points
  • President Trump's top envoy to Ukraine, William Taylor, reveals new details about a phone call that happened a day after the president's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
  • The discussion between Trump and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador the European Union, was not previously reported.
  • The conversation focused on the president's demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, Taylor says.
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Top US diplomat reveals details about undisclosed Trump phone call

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's top envoy to Ukraine, William Taylor, revealed new details Wednesday about a phone call that happened a day after the president spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which led to House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

The July 26 discussion between Trump and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador the European Union, was focused on the president's demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, Taylor said in congressional testimony during the first public impeachment hearing.

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Amb. Bill Taylor's opening statement at Trump impeachment hearing

The conversation, which was not previously reported, raises new questions about Sondland's conversations with Trump during the time the president was freezing nearly $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine.

"Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26," Taylor testified on Day 1 of the public hearings on impeachment. During that part of July, Taylor said he had been visiting the front lines of fighting between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"While Ambassador Volker and I visited the front, this member of my staff accompanied Ambassador Sondland" to a meeting with a top Ukrainian official in Kyiv, Taylor said.

"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," Taylor recounted.

"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," Taylor added, referring to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

Taylor then told the hearing that when he gave his deposition on Oct. 22, he was not aware of this information.

CNBC reached out to Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Sondland, for a response to the new revelations. Luskin replied "no response."

In response to questions about the newly revealed call between Trump and Sondland, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNBC, "the latest 'evidence' is an anonymous staffer who told someone he overheard someone else talking to POTUS on the phone. All the 'evidence' in this case is hearsay."

On Wednesday, NBC News confirmed that the Taylor aide who attended the July lunch during which Sondland spoke with Trump on the phone is David Holmes, a counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Kyiv. Also on Wednesday, House Democrats announced that Holmes had been added to the calendar of depositions, and was scheduled to testify in a closed session on Friday.

Trump has tried to distance himself from Sondland in recent weeks, after Sondland reversed his initial testimony to impeachment investigators and admitted to delivering a message to the Ukrainian government in September that Trump would not release military aid to the country until Ukraine issued a public statement announcing the launch of investigations that Trump and Giuliani wanted.

Asked on November 8 about his relationship with Sondland, Trump told reporters at the White House, "Let me just tell you: I hardly know the gentleman." A month before that, on October 8, Trump said in a tweet that Sondland was "a really good man and great American."

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

 -- CNBC's Eamon Javers contributed to this report