What William Taylor, George Kent said when asked if Donald Trump’s phone call was impeachable
Ambassador William Taylor responds to questions from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. (AP/Walsh) Ambassador William Taylor responds to questions from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. (AP/Walsh)

Ambassador William Taylor responds to questions from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. (AP/Walsh)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy November 14, 2019

For roughly five hours on Nov. 13, Ambassador William Taylor and senior State Department official George Kent fielded questions in the House impeachment inquiry’s first public hearing.

One important moment to many Republicans was not an answer Taylor or Kent gave. It was a nonanswer.

Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer, who worked for President George W. Bush as White House press secretary, called attention on Twitter to a testy exchange between Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas.

"Rep. Ratcliffe just asked the most important question of the day: Was there anything in President Trump's July 25th phone call that was impeachable," Fleischer tweeted. "Neither witness said yes."

Since Fleischer and others — including President Donald Trump — have tweeted about the back-and-forth, we decided to revisit the moment in question, which came toward the end of Ratcliffe’s allotted speaking time, and see what was said.

Taylor said impeachment wasn’t for him to decide

The exchange came after Ratcliffe asked about Trump’s phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, a readout of which was released by the White House in September.

"So, in this impeachment hearing today, where we impeach presidents for treason or bribery or other high crimes, where is the impeachable offense in that call?" Ratcliffe asked. "Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call?"

After roughly five seconds, Taylor started to respond. But Ratcliffe interrupted and, shouting over Taylor, withdrew the question before Taylor could finish. Taylor became visibly agitated.

Amid the crosstalk, Taylor said, "I’m not here to take one side or the other, that’s your decision."

At that point, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., offered to suspend the clock so Taylor could respond to the question without running out the rest of Ratcliffe’s time.

"I would just like to say that I’m not here to do anything having to do with the … to decide about impeachment," Taylor said. "That is not what either of us are here to do. This is your job."

That’s a different answer than the one suggested in Fleischer’s tweet, which characterized Taylor’s response as being telling in the same way that an affirmative "no" might have been. In reality, Taylor opted to pass on the question, saying it wasn’t his role to give a straight answer.

The job belongs to Congress, he said. Kent never addressed the question himself.

In an email to PolitiFact, Fleischer said both Taylor and Kent were "direct and to the point" in response to other questions and that "their failure to answer in the affirmative spoke volumes."

"They were not shy about providing their judgment for other questions, yet they notably did not say yes on Ratcliffe’s question," Fleischer told us. "They easily could have leaned in to answer the obvious question about impeachment. They did not say yes."

An attorney for Taylor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Bill McCarthy

What William Taylor, George Kent said when asked if Donald Trump’s phone call was impeachable