WASHINGTON — A Vietnam War veteran with decades of diplomatic experience, William B. Taylor Jr. has provided some of the sharpest objections so far to the Trump administration’s shadow foreign policy campaign in Ukraine.
At the State Department, Mr. Taylor is known for candor — even if it puts him at odds with his superiors. When Mr. Taylor, currently the top American diplomat in Kiev, disagrees with policy decisions, he does not mince his words.
Mr. Taylor had warned that pressuring Ukraine to investigate President Trump’s political opponents by withholding security assistance would be “crazy.” That message was sent in a Sept. 9 text to Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union.
In a text to Mr. Sondland a day earlier, Mr. Taylor said he would quit if Ukrainian officials committed to an investigation and still did not receive the $391 million in aid — what he called a “nightmare” situation.Both of those statements were revealed in closed-door congressional testimony that Mr. Taylor gave to House investigators in October, and have put him at the center of the effort by Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry into the president.
“He will push for what he thinks is the best policy outcome,” said Daniel Fried, a former ambassador and assistant secretary of state who began working on policy with Mr. Taylor in 2000. “He will salute — he will do what needs to be done — but if you ask him he will tell you.”
Mr. Taylor was recalled to the State Department in June from a position helping lead the United States Institute of Peace after nearly five decades of government work — including a tour in Vietnam as an Army infantry soldier, a stint as a Senate staff member and diplomatic postings including Brussels, Baghdad and Kabul.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to return to Ukraine, where Mr. Taylor had served as ambassador under President George W. Bush, to hold the fort. The most recent ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, was ordered back to Washington after resisting the shadow foreign policy campaign, and Mr. Taylor was widely seen as a leader who could provide stability and continuity to the American Embassy in Kiev.
Instead, he fought to protect the security aid from other Trump administration appointees who wanted to use it as a political bargaining chip. He argued the assistance was vital for supporting Ukraine against Russian-backed forces. Without it, Mr. Taylor said after visiting the front lines in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, “more Ukranians would undoubtedly die.”
It was not the first time that Mr. Taylor had bucked his bosses in the hope of protecting Ukraine from Russia.
In 2008, he pushed the Bush administration to give Ukraine the chance to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a position he surely knew ran counter to that of Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state. But Mr. Bush endorsed the move, which ultimately was dropped when France and Germany opposed it.
Mr. Taylor “was pushing the envelope, and he argued in terms of American interests,” Mr. Fried said. “And it impressed all of us that the guy was willing to put himself out there.”
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