Trump Blocks EU Ambassador From Testifying Before Congress On Ukraine
President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union was slated to testify before the House on Tuesday morning as part of its impeachment inquiry, but the White House has blocked his deposition, according to Politico.
Gordon Sondland was identified in text message exchanges relating to Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, potentially withholding U.S. military aid in an attempt to apply pressure.
Sondland’s attorney confirmed that his client would not appear before the House as ordered by the State Department.
“As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,” attorney Robert Luskin said in a statement. “Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today. Ambassador Sondland traveled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the Committee’s questions.”
Democrats have indicated they consider White House attempts to block testimony to be evidence of obstruction, Politico reported.
On Tuesday morning, the president defended his decision to bar Sondland from testifying, tweeting: "I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately 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.”
Former U.S. representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker previously testified as part of the impeachment investigation, at which time he submitted text message exchanges that appeared to show Sondland’s involvement in the pressure campaign on Ukrainian officials.
Included in those tweets was a discussion between Sondland and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, during which Taylor expressed concern that the White House would withhold U.S. military aid until Ukraine agreed to Trump’s investigation demands.
Trump conveniently ignored that exchange, tweeting on Tuesday only about Sondland’s final tweet indicating there was a misunderstanding and no quid pro quo was in place.
"Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, 'I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.' That says it ALL!" the president wrote.
But as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait discussed in a Tuesday piece, Trump’s blocking of Sondland’s deposition reeks of a cover-up.
The EU ambassador’s testimony presents a particular danger for the president, Chait noted.
The most incriminating text exchange came when Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, recorded his objections to the policy: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland waiting five hours to respond. The Wall Street Journal reports today that he’d spoken with Trump in the interim. After getting his talking points from the president, Sondland denied that there was a quid pro quo and very suspiciously asked to move the discussion from texts to over the phone.
Sondland’s testimony could very well reveal the president directing a cover-up. Further, according to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Sondland has more evidence stored on a personal device — evidence the State Department is withholding from the committee.
Right, nothing says “innocent” like an underling being so concerned about being conscripted into an unethical scheme he memorializes it in writing, only for his supervisor to check in with the boss offline, repeat the party line, and then instruct everybody to communicate in a way that can’t be used as evidence.