Michele Kelemen

Updated at 7:10 p.m. ET

Longtime U.S. diplomat William Taylor told lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that President Trump orchestrated a parallel foreign policy for Ukraine that made U.S. aid to the country contingent on investigations to help himself politically.

In a written statement to three House committees tasked with Democrats' impeachment inquiry, Taylor said he "became increasingly concerned" as "irregular, informal channels" of policymaking diverged from official U.S. goals — led by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

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On paper, Kurt Volker's job in the Trump administration was to support Ukraine and help end a war started by Russia in the east of the former Soviet Republic. Volker is now caught up in a political battle at home over President Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Volker will be deposed Thursday behind closed doors as part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

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Kelly Craft is expected to take up her job as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. on Thursday. She's a Republican donor and is married to a billionaire coal executive. Craft is likely to take a much lower profile than her predecessor, Nikki Haley.

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All right. Let's put that same question - how will the U.S. respond? - to two of the many NPR reporters working this story today. Our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is with us. Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

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The U.S. has been backing efforts to topple Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now tells CNN that there was a moment today when it seemed Maduro was ready to leave.

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The White House is tightening a decades-old embargo on Cuba but delaying for another month a decision that could put foreign companies invested on the island in legal jeopardy.

Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton (Libertad) Act would let Americans — including Cubans who have since become U.S. citizens — sue companies that "traffic" in property confiscated by Cuba after the country's 1959 communist revolution.

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When President Trump announced in December that he would pull troops out of Syria, he said the U.S. had defeated ISIS there. Today he says the U.S. has almost defeated ISIS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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The State Department on Thursday ordered employees to return to work next week, despite the partial government shutdown, saying it would figure out how to cover the next paycheck.

In a note posted on its website and emailed to staff, the department said it "is taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries."

If the shutdown continues beyond the next pay period, State Department officials say they will have to work with Congress to reprogram funds in order to cover salaries.

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Updated on Friday at 2:44 p.m. ET.

From Fox & Friends to the State Department, and now likely to the United Nations.

President Trump says he will nominate Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman and a former Fox News host, to become the next ambassador to the U.N.

"She's very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she's going to be respected by all, so Heather Nauert will be nominated for the ambassador to the United Nations," Trump told reporters Friday.

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Former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi was detained in Iran nearly three years ago. His son is urging Tehran to let his 82-year-old father leave the country for medical treatment. Namazi is one of several Americans held in Iran.

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