Impeachment Inquiry: Ambassador's Testimony Blocked

Elias Hubbard
October 9, 2019

The State Department on Tuesday blocked a top USA diplomat from speaking to Congress as part of Democratic lawmakers' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

Sondland has been a key figure in the widening Ukraine scandal involving the president, members of his Cabinet and high-ranking diplomats. But the four other officials, including Sondland, remain State Department employees. Through his lawyer on Tuesday, he said he hoped "the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly".

McDermott also said Sondland was "profoundly disappointed" he couldn't testify Tuesday, but is ready to appear on short notice, if he's permitted.

But Jim Jordan, top Republican on the oversight committee, said he understood why the state department had blocked Mr Sondland's appearance, calling the inquiry "unfair and partisan". He said the panel is probing whether Trump solicited foreign help from Ukraine for his 2020 reelection, whether a never-realized White House meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Trump was conditioned on the country conducting investigations, whether USA military assistance to Ukraine was conditioned on those investigations and whether the administration has obstructed justice.

"Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee's questions on an expedited basis".

Hours later, Sondland, who had been aggressively pursuing a public settlement for Ukraine to launch the investigations, replied, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions".

Sondland, a major donor to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, was one of a handful of USA diplomats on a text message chain between July and September that goes to the heart of the investigation.

In one of the texts, Mr Sondland said Mr Trump "really wants the deliverable".

Messages between Sondland and another ambassador were released along with other selected messages last week by House Democrats, who argued that the messages "reflect serious concerns by a State Department official about the detrimental effects of withholding critical military assistance from Ukraine and the importance of setting up a meeting between President Trump and the Ukrainian president without further delay".

Following the allegations that Trump pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Biden while withholding the military aid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment investigation last month. On Sunday, lawyers said a second whistleblower had come forward to substantiate that complaint.

Sondland worked with other senior State Department officials to facilitate conversations between President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and top Ukrainian officials as the president and Giuliani sought a Ukrainian investigation into Trump's political opponents.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and longtime Republican donor, has been vocal in his support for the president's dealings with Ukraine.

Rep. Jim Jordan and other Republicans said the Democratic-controlled process was fundamentally unfair, demanding that Schiff release transcript of testimony last week by Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine at the time.

A Trump donor and Portland, Oregon, hotelier, Sondland became the USA envoy to the European Union in July 2018. Yovanovitch was the USA ambassador to Ukraine until Trump recalled her in May before her term was up, after the president's supporters questioned her loyalty.

The decision to block Sondland from testifying heightens the conflict between the Trump administration and the House committees over the impeachment inquiry.

Trump has reacted furiously to the inquiry, using obscenities and insulting nicknames for Democratic lawmakers in posts on Twitter.

The White House was expected to tell Pelosi this week that it would ignore lawmakers' demands for documents until the House holds a vote to approve the impeachment inquiry.

"The White House has once again attempted to impede and obstruct the impeachment inquiry", the three said in a statement.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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