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An ambassador's integrity rises above the Ukraine mess

Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor. He

Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. Credit: handout

It’s rare for me to write about someone I know personally who is in the middle of a controversial news cycle. Then again, it’s rare that a presidential impeachment inquiry is underway.

And most unusual, it’s rare that an acting chief of staff stands in front of the White House press corps and throws his boss — in this case, President Donald Trump — under the proverbial bus, by admitting that U.S. military aid was withheld from Ukraine for domestic political purposes. And then — unsuccessfully — tries to walk back the admission.

So where is the impeachment inquiry headed?

Bill Taylor, the acting Ambassador to Ukraine, is at the center of this week’s congressional investigation into whether Trump withheld the aid unless Ukraine publicly committed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

I worked with Taylor both at the State Department and at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonprofit organization where our time overlapped. And if every story has a hero, Taylor is nominated. A committed public servant and foreign affairs expert, Taylor is the person you want alongside in a bad situation. He’s calm, levelheaded, thoughtful and diplomatic.

That’s why the now-infamous text messages between Taylor and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Trump’s representative to the European Union, in which Taylor questions the wisdom of tying foreign aid to Ukraine to the president’s interests in digging up dirt on one of his 2020 Democratic rivals, have shaken the Washington establishment. Taylor even suggested that such a linkage would be “crazy.” And from my experience, it would take a monumentally stupid act for Taylor to call anything “crazy.” He’d much prefer words like “unwise” or “inappropriate.”

Of course, we now know that Taylor is one of many U.S. officials who feared that U.S. foreign policy was being fashioned and implemented by a private citizen, Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers. Nobody elected Giuliani, and Congress didn’t confirm him for any job, but it appears that Trump instructed American diplomats to go through the former mayor to set up the Ukrainian president’s visit to the White House — but only if the former Soviet-bloc nation launched probes into the Bidens. At least that is what Sondland reportedly told a congressional inquiry on Thursday.

Still, this much is clear: Good people did good things in this tale of woe. Taylor knew how to blow a whistle, and ensure that his concerns were heard in the Oval Office, where Trump had to provide Sondland’s no-quid-pro-quo talking points.

Taylor agreed to step in when the previous ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was abruptly recalled — thanks to Giuliani’s handiwork to discredit her with his client’s absurd conspiracy theories.

Thank you, Bill. You deserve a Medal of Honor.

Tara D. Sonenshine, a former U.S. undersecretary of state in the Obama administration, advises students at The George Washington University.