There is no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim, made repeatedly this past week, that top US diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor is a “Never Trumper.”
The low-key diplomat rose to global attention after testifying on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry. He provided a damning account of how Trump told his appointees to establish a quid pro quo, trading much-needed US military aid for political favors from Ukraine.
Trump first made the unfounded accusation against Taylor in a tweet on Wednesday, and repeated it twice on Friday to a gaggle of reporters on the White House lawn.
“Here’s the problem,” Trump said, referring to Taylor. “He’s a Never Trumper and his lawyer’s a Never Trumper.”
Facts First: There is zero public evidence that Taylor is a Never Trumper. All available information paints him as respected and apolitical public servant. But Trump is correct when it comes to Taylor’s attorney John Bellinger, who helped lead the charge of Republicans against Trump in 2016.
There is no indication that Taylor has ever donated to political candidates for federal office, according to Federal Election Commission data. Taylor has a relatively common name, but there are no records matching his name, home state of Virginia and employment history.
After he was appointed by then-President George W. Bush to be the US ambassador to Ukraine in 2006, he told lawmakers that he never contributed to any political campaigns, according to the congressional record. He was confirmed by voice vote by the Republican-controlled Senate.
At that time, Taylor disclosed that his wife made one political donation before: She gave $150 in 2003 to 21st Century Democrats, a political action committee that backs “genuinely progressive” and “populist” Democrats. The group endorsed Barack Obama’s campaign for Senate in 2004.
In the Senate disclosures, Taylor detailed a slew of donations his parents gave to Republicans over the years. This included money to Arizona Sen. John McCain, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“I’ve known Bill Taylor for 26 years, and he doesn’t take positions based on politics,” said former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and stayed on during the Bush administration. “Bill Taylor is a guy who volunteered for Vietnam. He isn’t a radical. Anyone who starts barking up that tree has got to get their facts straight.”
Nine additional former State Department officials who previously spoke to CNN described Taylor as a person of high character who was more likely to put sound foreign policy before politics.
He was so respected that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to come out of retirement to lead the US embassy in Kiev this year, a position he first held during the Bush administration.
Trump’s disdain for Taylor apparently isn’t shared by Pompeo, one of the President’s closest allies. In an interview on Friday with The Sunflower, the student-run newspaper at Wichita State University, Pompeo voiced some subdued approval of Taylor’s performance since taking over in Ukraine.
“He and I both share this vision for how American interests in Ukraine can properly be represented. I have every reason to think that he’s still out there, banging away at that problem set,” Pompeo said.
What about Taylor’s lawyer?
Unlike Trump’s claims against Taylor, his criticism of Taylor’s lawyer John Bellinger is accurate.
Someone as outspoken as Bellinger is surely an interesting choice of attorney for Taylor, who has been described as a “quiet guy” by people who know him well. But associating with Bellinger does not make Taylor a Never Trumper himself. He may have just wanted an attorney with strong credentials in DC.
A registered Republican, Bellinger served under the Bush administration first as senior associate counsel to the President and later as legal adviser to the State Department.
In August 2016, months before the general election, Bellinger drafted a letter that was co-signed by 50 senior Republican national security and foreign policy experts and stated that Trump was “not qualified” to be President and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
“(Trump) weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world,” the letter said. “He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.”
After Trump was elected, Bellinger joined “Checks and Balances,” a group of conservative lawyers formed to speak out against Trump. The group also includes George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who supports impeachment and rails against Trump almost daily on Twitter.
Bellinger told The New York Times that the group came together because they felt “conservative lawyers are not doing enough to protect constitutional principles that are being undermined by the statements and actions of this president.”