The first open hearing was today, and it was with Ambassador Talylor and Mr. Kent. Why would they need to speak to the Ambassador? He was not involved in the phone call. I mean, he may be the Ambassador in Ukraine, but does he actually have any information that is helpful? Why choose him to testify first?
In brief, the Washington Post lays out his pertinence as follows.
As the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, he had a unique vantage point: Key figures in pushing Trump’s Ukraine policy were open with Taylor as they tried to get Ukraine to do Trump’s bidding.
In analyzing his testimony, the Washington Post summarizes the key points of his testimony as follows.
He testified that he learned via conversations with White House aides, national security officials and Trump’s point people in Ukraine that there was a concerted effort to force Ukraine into a quid pro quo: If it wanted military aid and an Oval Office meeting, Ukraine’s president needed to publicly agree to investigate Democrats. What’s critical about Taylor’s testimony is that he didn’t attribute this to one conversation with one person. Over the course of several months, he talked to high-level officials at the National Security Council, officials in Ukraine’s presidential office and two of the “three amigos” designated by Trump to handle Ukraine policy outside the normal diplomatic channels. “I was in the regular channel” of diplomacy, Taylor testified, “but I was also in the irregular one.”
His relevancy is further compounded by the fact that his testimony contradicts some of that given by Gordon Sondland, and after reading Taylor's original testimony, Sondland then revised his statements to Congress.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, originally testified that he didn’t remember offering Ukraine a quid pro quo to unfreeze its military aid. But Sondland later told Congress that he had “refreshed my recollection” after reading testimony by Taylor and Morrison, and confirmed that he did tell Ukrainians that military aid would probably be held until they agreed to investigate Democrats.
In regards to your question of "Why choose him first?" I don't know. I'm not privy to their strategy, but my assumption is that it is more difficult to get the most relevant witnesses in to testify as they have more at stake.
but does he actually have any information that is helpful?
New events came to light today:
Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, revealed for the first time that his staff members overheard President Donald Trump speaking on the phone to another diplomat about investigations.
Taylor, as the acting ambassador to Ukraine, would be aware of how formal interactions between countries generally occur. As events unfolded, he became increasingly concerned about informal lines of communication, and other unusual proceedings that could potentially (1) cast the US or Ukraine in a bad light (2) weaken the Ukraine's political and military power and (3) strengthen Russia's political and military position against Ukraine. Later, Taylor became aware of pressure from Trump on Zelensky to publicly make a statement about "investigations" -- Biden, Burisma, and the 2016 elections. He goes on to explain the unexplained freezing of monetary aid (and later unexplained unfreezing) to Ukraine.
His statements about the above and questioning provide background and context for when senior US officials became aware of, and concerned about, highly unusual ("just wrong" to quote the hearing today) activities involving the US president.
Summary from TPM
Taylor described the “two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation.” He was in charge of the regular channel, which enjoyed bipartisan support, while the “irregular channel” was “unaccountable” to Congress. It was made up of Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Taylor said that while he was firmly in the regular channel, he was at times looped into the irregular channel through his conversations with Sondland and Volker.
Taylor has now recounted key moments from his private deposition as he learned that the interests of the regular channels and irregular channels were beginning to diverge. First it was hearing from Sondland that the President did not want Zelensky standing in the way of “investigations.” Then it was Sondland’s request that a call with Zelensky go without the usual monitoring and extra staff on the line. In mid-July, Taylor became aware of Giuliani’s role driving the irregular channel and its conditions for investigations in exchange for a Trump meeting with Zelensky. On July 18 Taylor became aware of the freeze on military assistance, and on July 19 Taylor was told in a phone call with Fiona Hill, then a top aide on the National Security Council, of a “drug deal,” in the alleged words of National Security Advisor John Bolton, being cooked up.
Kent talks about similar topics, but provides context for why the above events would be concerning. He talks some about political soft power, and perceptions of political power, how witholding aid has damaged the US-Ukraine relationship, but also hurt Ukraine military defense, mentions that ~13,000 Ukrainians have died since Russia invaded in 2014.
George Kent’s lengthy opening statement gave a broad look at Ukraine’s geopolitical challenges before getting into the nitty gritty of the allegations the House are probing.
He described learning of the campaign, run by Rudy Giuliani and his two indicted middleman Lev Parnas and Igor Furman, to “smear” the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch, who was ultimately removed by Trump. He said the Ukrainian officials working with them in the effort peddled “false information in order to exact revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct, including U.S. diplomats, Ukrainian anti-corruption officials, and reform-minded civil society groups in Ukraine.”
“In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging [Ukraine] President Zelensky’s desire for a White House meeting,” Kent recalled.
Why were these two chosen as opening witnesses?
I don't know if there's an objective answer to that, but listening to the hearings today, the testimony provided good background and context for the purpose of determining if the president abused his power or improperly withheld aid to Ukraine.
Why would they need to speak to the Ambassador? He was not involved in the phone call.
The impeachment is not about an inappropriate phone call. It's about Trump's alleged attempt to corruptly abuse the powers of the presidency in an effort to coerce the Ukraine to open an investigation to his personal political benefit.
The phone call is only one part of that picture, and there were various events before and after the phone call that were also
corrupt relevant. As ambassador to the Ukraine, Taylor is a first hand witness to several of these events.
On the other hand, if Taylor didn't observe any additional attempts by Trump to coerce the Ukraine to open an investigation to his personal political benefit, before or after the phone call, that would strengthen Trump's defense. But that's not what happened.
Chairman Adam Schiff and William Taylor explained in their opening statements.
Taylor was acting ambassador to Ukraine since May 2019, replacing Marie Yovanovitch after her dismissal based on false accusations.
Taylor testified about his communications with individuals including Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and presidential advisor Tim Morrison relating to the circumstances under investigation. Taylor also testified about his experience of the "regular and irregular" channels for policy-making and implementation (channels that "diverged in their objectives), knowledge of the wider context of USA's official foreign policy with regard to Ukraine (i.e. one of the reasons why this is important), and about what other officials had told him.
Through the summer of 2019, Taylor learned of the irregular channel through which Sondland and Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani "could advance the President's personal and political interests" in Ukraine.
In particular, learning that a meeting between the two Presidents that was conditional on investigations into Bursima and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US elections, and a hold for no known reason on assistance worth $400 million.