The White House yesterday ordered a top United States diplomat not to speak to Congress as part of the impeachment investigation of Donald Trump, dramatically escalating the battle with Democrats over his presidency.
In response, Democrats heading the impeachment probe announced they will subpoena Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for his testimony and documents.
Sondland is enmeshed in the scandal over how Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival Joe Biden.
The diplomat’s lawyer said he had agreed to be deposed by House Democrats probing the matter. But “early this morning, the US Department of State directed… Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview,” his attorney Robert Luskin said in a statement.
Trump swiftly took responsibility for the decision, taking to Twitter to say he would “love” to have sent Sondland to sit for a Capitol Hill deposition.
“But unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republicans’ rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see,” the president wrote.
The order not to testify made in a midnight call by the State Department to Sondland hours before his scheduled appearance intensifies the confrontation between the White House and Democrats investigating the president for possible impeachable offenses including obstruction of justice.
Democrats have delivered subpoenas to multiple administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ordering them to turn over relevant documents.
The White House has largely refused to cooperate with the probe, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally launched last month after revelations that Trump pressured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call.
Sondland is a wealthy hotelier who was a major donor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He was one of a handful of US diplomats on a text message chain between July and September, provided to Democrats leading the probe, that go to the heart of the investigation’s focus.
The messages between the diplomats, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a Ukrainian presidential aide show that they helped coordinate administration efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former vice president Biden, a 2020 White House hopeful, as the country sought US military aid and access.
In their texts, Sondland and other diplomats discussed leveraging a potential summit between Trump and Zelensky on a pledge to investigate 2016 election interference and a Ukrainian company that employed Biden’s son Hunter.