The U.S ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, was supposed to be testifying to Congress on Tuesday, however, he was a no show, apparently at the behest of the White House.
Sondland did not appear at his scheduled deposition on the Ukraine controversy, triggering a fiery new clash with House Democrats amid their impeachment inquiry.
President Trump dismissed the deposition as a “kangaroo court” as he defended the decision to block Sondland from appearing at the closed-door session on Capitol Hill.
But the move, which was first reported by the New York Times, prompted new warnings from Democrats that such acts will be seen as an obstruction of their investigation into the controversy surrounding Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters Tuesday morning.
An attorney for Sondland said the order did appear to come from the State Department. Attorney Robert Luskin said. Sondland — who had agreed to appear voluntarily for the closed session — is required to follow the Department’s direction. However, no reason as to why State ordered Sondland not to testify was given, Luskin said.
Luskin said Sondland “is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify.” His statement to the press said, “Ambassador Sondland hopes that the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly. He stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear.”
Fox News has reported that while Sondland is not showing up “for now,” Schiff plans to draft a subpoena to try to secure his testimony later in the day.
Trump tweeted that while he would “love” to send Sondland to testify, he “would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see.”
Sondland is a key figure in the Impeachment Inquiry that was triggered by the now infamous phone transcript that shows the president urging a Biden-related investigation, by the President of Ukraine. Trump denies any ‘quid pro quo’ claims.
Why is the Spotlight on Sondland?
Sondland has become a critical witness for Schiff and the Dems, as he had texted with Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, arguing over allegations of a quid pro quo.
In early September, Taylor wrote, “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
Days later, he followed up, “As I said over the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland responded, defending the president, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear – no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”
The decision to block Sondland’s appearance comes as Democrats have been pushing forward with their inquiry. On Monday, House Democrats issued a fresh round of subpoenas to the Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget for documents relating to reports that Trump ordered then-acting OMB Chief Mick Mulvaney to freeze aid to Ukraine.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated prior statements that he would oppose any “harassment” of department employees by Congress.