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Acting U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Expected To Appear Before House Committees


Michael McKinley testified today before House impeachment investigators. He was an adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before abruptly resigning last week. In his testimony, McKinley said that he resigned in part because of what appeared to him to be the use of ambassadors overseas to, quote, "advance domestic political objectives." He was also upset that the State Department did not provide legal and moral support to foreign service officers caught up in the investigation. That's according to sources familiar with the testimony.


Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine is thought to be on his way to Washington to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Taylor has voiced concerns about whether Trump allies pressured Ukrainians to find dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on Taylor.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: William Taylor is an Army veteran and a longtime foreign service officer who has worked in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

STEVEN PIFER: He was probably my most frequent visitor when I was the ambassador in Kyiv because he was, at that time, the coordinator of American assistance to Ukraine.

KELEMEN: That's Steven Pifer, who was ambassador to Ukraine in the late 1990s and a friend and former colleague of Taylor's. He says Taylor's experience working on U.S. aid programs in the newly independent former Soviet republic made him the right choice to become ambassador there in 2006.

PIFER: He was popular. I mean, and he did some interesting things. He had served in the U.S. Army, and he'd been parachute qualified. And so once or twice - I don't think he told Washington about this until after the fact - but he jumped out of a helicopter with some Ukrainian paratroopers.

KELEMEN: In recent years, Taylor was at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he recorded many interviews about Ukrainian politics, including this podcast after comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected.


WILLIAM TAYLOR: The new president, the president elect, is getting a lot of support from the international community. And, as people told me over and over, the Americans are key.

KELEMEN: Soon after that interview, the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch was abruptly withdrawn, having faced a smear campaign. And Taylor found himself back in Kyiv as acting ambassador. By then, his views were well-known. Ambassador Taylor had written many op-eds with Pifer and with a third former ambassador about Russian aggression in Ukraine. They called for the U.S. to start providing defensive weapons to the Ukrainians, which the Trump administration did, and made other proposals that Pifer says did not go down well in the Russian media.

PIFER: The phrase was the Three Stooges that is all that is wrong with American policy.

KELEMEN: Taylor wouldn't comment for this story. Many of his friends and colleagues praise him for the role he seems to have played this year when Trump temporarily delayed military aid while his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani pressed Ukraine to open investigations into Trump's political rivals. House committees released text messages that show Taylor writing, quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." In another, Taylor writes that President Zelenskiy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in U.S. reelection politics. Those messages didn't surprise former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who says he has enormous respect for Taylor's judgment.

BILL BURNS: He is very honest about what he saw to be wrong, about the effort to use American political leverage not in pursuit of our national interests but, rather, in pursuit of personal political gain. And he was honest and honorable enough to call that out in text messages. And I'm sure when he ends up doing his deposition, he's going to be equally honest and straightforward.

KELEMEN: Another former colleague, Dan Fried, thinks so, too, pointing out that Taylor has had a long diplomatic career and doesn't have much to lose. He's not trying to climb any ladders, Fried says. He's already climbed them.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.