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Bill Taylor arrives for his testimony on Capitol Hill. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday released the transcript of its closed door interview with Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

Why it matters: In his opening statement, Taylor told House investigators that he understood President Trump to be conditioning the release of military aid on the Ukrainian president's willingness to announce investigations into Trump's political rivals, including Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

  • Taylor's testimony, which drew a direct line from congressionally approved military aid to Ukrainian interference in domestic U.S. politics, was met with allegations from the president that the longtime diplomat is a "Never Trumper."
  • Taylor, a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, has served in every administration since 1985 and was asked to return to serve as acting ambassador to Ukraine in May by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • He was skeptical of accepting the job because he was worried that an irregular channel of foreign policy led by Rudy Giuliani would undermine U.S.-Ukraine relations.

What to watch: Taylor is scheduled to testify in open session next week as part of the impeachment inquiry's first public hearings.

Key excerpts

Taylor testified that he first heard about military aid being tied to the investigations from National Security Council official Tim Morrison, who described a conversation EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland had with Ukrainian official Andrey Yermak.

CHAIRMAN SCHIFF: And when you say that, this was the first time I heard that the security assistance not just the White House meeting was conditioned on the investigation, when you talk about conditioned, did you mean that if they didn't do this, the investigations, they weren't going to get that, the meeting and the military assistance?
TAYLOR: That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the President committed to pursue the investigation.
SCHIFF: So if they don't do this, they are not going to get that was your understanding
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
SCHIFF: Are you aware that quid pro quo literally means this for that?
TAYLOR: I AM.

He also said that Giuliani, representing Trump, was the architect of the idea to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to say publicly that he would open investigations into Burisma, a gas company with ties to Biden's son, and the 2016 election.

MALINOWSKI: Who was responsible for setting all this into motion? Was it Mr. Sondland? Was it Ambassador Sondland?
TAYLOR: I don't think so. I think the origin of the idea to get President Zelensky to say out loud he's going to investigate Burisma and 2016 election, I think the originator, the person who came up with that was Mr. Giuliani.
MALINOWSKI: And he was representing whose interests?
TAYLOR: President Trump.

Taylor testified that the secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA director, and the national security advisor sought to get a meeting with Trump to discuss the Ukraine aid freeze, but that the meeting was too difficult to schedule.

SCHIFF: What do you deduce from that, that our alIy is fighting with the Russians, but all of these agencies that support this can't get a meeting with the President to discuss it?
TAYLOR: It turns out, Mr. Chairman, that those principals, as we call them, were on different trips at different times. I think this was also about the time of the Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a lot of energy in the NSC.
SCHIFF: Okay. That's disturbing for a whole different reason.

Read the transcript

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Driving the news: US National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

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The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.