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US envoy in Ukraine set to leave after impeachment testimony

WASHINGTON, DC – The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine will be leaving his post at the beginning of next year after a term convulsed by the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, two officials said Tuesday.

William Taylor, who was brought in to replace the ambassador whose term was cut short by Trump in May, could only serve a maximum of 210 days under federal law.

But the veteran diplomat ended up a key player in the events that led to the impeachment inquiry and will step down as the charge d'affaires of the embassy in Kyiv on Jan. 1. The plan was confirmed by two officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about a personnel matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Taylor will be replaced on an interim basis by his current deputy, Kristina Kvien, the officials said.

The officials said the White House is likely to nominate retired Army Gen. Keith Dayton to be the next ambassador to Ukraine. Dayton is currently director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany but has held diplomatic posts in the past, including as the defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Taylor, who was brought out of retirement to take command of the embassy in June following the ouster of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, was limited in the amount of time he could serve in Kyiv due to federal personnel regulations.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, took exception to Taylor's impending departure, suggesting he was being recalled early ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's possible visit to Kyiv next month, in a similar way that Yovanovitch was removed.

“I am extremely concerned that this suspect decision furthers the president’s inappropriate and unacceptable linking of U.S. policy to Ukraine to his personal and political benefit, and potentially your own,” Menendez wrote in a letter to Pompeo.

“By unceremoniously recalling Ambassador Taylor early, in a manner similar to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s removal, you would once again denigrate the role of our frontline diplomats serving around the world,” he wrote.

Taylor earned Trump's ire with testimony before House impeachment investigators when he recounted his experience in dealing with a parallel diplomatic channel with Ukraine. He grew concerned when it appeared that Trump's hand-picked team was withholding vital military aid to the new Ukrainian government in exchange for a public pledge to open an investigation into the president's political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

At one point, Taylor told former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondlund that it was “crazy” to withhold the assistance in return for political support. At another point, Taylor threatened to resign if the Ukrainians made such a pledge but the aid was not released.

In the end, the aid was released without any promises. Following Taylor's testimony, Trump disparaged him for being a “never Trumper,” an unsubstantiated claim.