How Bill Taylor gave Democrats their biggest bombshell yet

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Image: Former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill on Oct. 22, 2019.
Former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill on Oct. 22, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Almost three weeks ago, we saw the “smoking texts” among President Trump’s Ukraine team, which certainly seemed to suggest evidence that the president was using the power of his office to extract re-election help from another country.

And on Tuesday, we got our hands on the smoking testimony from the administration’s top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who revealed that a quid pro quo — meeting/military aid for 2016/2020 assistance — was crystal clear.

"By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma 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," Taylor said, per his opening statement.

"During this same phone call I had with [National Security Council official Tim] Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak [a top Ukrainian official] at Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation."

More: "During that [Sept. 1] phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election."

"According to Mr. Morrison [a U.S. national security aide], President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself."

Also: "Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not 'clear things up' in public, we would be a 'stalemate.' I understood a 'stalemate' to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance."

"[D]uring our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta European Strategy Conference.”

And finally: "I had come to understand well before then that 'investigations' was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens."

President Trump and his GOP defenders continue to argue that there was no quid pro quo.

“Neither he (Taylor) or any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld. You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.” Congressman John Ratcliffe @foxandfriends Where is the Whistleblower? The Do Nothing Dems case is DEAD!” Trump tweeted this morning.

But read Taylor’s testimony once again.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: CNN poll shows Biden with his largest national lead in Dem race

On some days, as we wrote last week, Joe Biden looks to be a lot stronger than the conventional wisdom suggests.

And on other days, he seems much weaker than you might think.

Today? It’s the former, with a new national CNN poll (taken after last week’s debate — Oct. 17-20) showing Biden with his largest lead in that survey.

The numbers: Biden 34 percent (up 10 points from September), Warren 19 percent (up 1 point), Sanders 16 percent (down 1), Buttigieg 6 percent (unchanged), Harris 6 percent (down 2), Klobuchar 3 percent and Beto O’Rourke 3 percent.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

By the way, Klobuchar is now just one poll away from qualifying for next month’s debate. And O’Rourke is now two polls away.

And speaking of Klobuchar, she’s up with a new TV ad in Iowa and New Hampshire.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden delivers an economic speech from Scranton, Pa., before heading to events in Iowa… Kamala Harris and Julian Castro also are in the Hawkeye State… Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer stump in New Hampshire… Pete Buttigieg visits Las Vegas, where he tours a marijuana dispensary … Beto O’Rourke speaks with the Washington Post in DC… And Cory Booker also is in DC, where he delivers remarks to the National Press Club.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Kamala Harris stumped yesterday in Iowa, where she was asked why her Medicare for All plan spans 10 years – when, if elected, she would at most serve eight years as president. “Harris told him she took union workers’ needs into account, as they negotiated specific contracts that limit their pay increases specifically so they can get better healthcare benefits,” per NBC’s Maura Barrett. “These contracts typically last four to five years, so they asked if she could extend it — which is why she chose 10 years, as every baby born would automatically be rolled into it.”

SNL’s version of Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her house. Well, Amy Klobuchar can see Iowa from her porch. During an interview on MSNBC, Klobuchar spoke about being able to be committed to her role as a senator during a possible impeachment and running for president. NBC’s Amanda Golden flagged, “Klobuchar says she can do two things at once – devoting herself to the impeachment process if it comes to the Senate, but also feels that right now, ‘I am a candidate for the country because I'm someone that can bring the country together.’” Klobuchar also noted that her proximity to one state helps in a presidential contest, “I can see Iowa from my porch,” she said.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 46 percent

46 percent.

That’s the share of likely voters who support Republican Tate Reeves for Mississippi governor, compared with 43 percent for Democrat Jim Hood, according to a new Mason-Dixon poll. That’s within the poll’s margin of error.

The poll also finds that Trump, who has indicated he wants to be heavily involved in all three of November’s red-state gubernatorial races, has a 54 percent job approval rating in the state. And just 34 percent of voters support his impeachment and removal from office.

The Lid: Tangled up in blue

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what we can learn from the latest polling in Minnesota.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The showdown over Trump’s taxes is headed to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mitch McConnell is pressing Trump on his Syria move and urging him to consider withdrawing his invitation for Turkish President Erdogan to visit the White House next month.

The Washington Post looks at how three GOP operatives — Brad Parscale, Katie Walsh and Mike Shields — are dominating the party ecosystem.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is backing a Texas Democrat who’s primarying Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Trump Agenda: Taylor’s Tale

Here are the highlights from Bill Taylor’s testimony to congressional investigators.

The author of that anonymous White House “resistance” op-ed is now writing a book.

The Trump name is less visible at New York City’s skating rinks this season.

A new front in the Giuliani-Russia saga: The U.S. cannabis industry.

Another big donor to Trump’s inaugural committee will plead guilty to hiding his work as a foreign agent.

2020: Tulsi vs. Hillary

POLITICO does a deep dive into the Clinton-Gabbard feud.

The New York Times looks at Pete Buttigieg’s centrist strategy.

Bernie Sanders is up with his first ad featuring the AOC endorsement.

Trump’s re-election campaign is targeting Hispanics in unlikely places.

The Washington Post takes its stab at the anxious-2020-Dems piece.

Can Doug Jones win?

Corporate America is still staying very anxious about Elizabeth Warren.