Curriencies

Trump admin blocks key US diplomat’s testimony in impeachment probe


Gordon Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union, adresses the media during a press conference at the US Embassy to Romania in Bucharest September 5, 2019.Daniel Mihailescu | AFP | Getty ImagesThe Trump administration has ordered a top diplomat not to appear for a scheduled deposition with House committees conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, a lawyer for the diplomat said Tuesday.Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was directed early Tuesday by the State Department not to show up for a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, said Sondland’s counsel, Robert Luskin, in a statement to NBC News.Luskin said 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.” But “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.”House Democrats have warned the Trump administration that any attempts to interfere with the impeachment inquiry will be viewed as evidence of obstruction.Sondland’s text messages with other U.S. diplomats were released last week after they were given to those House panels by former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker during his own deposition. In a Sept. 9 exchange, Bill Taylor, a senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”Sondland responded: “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.”Click here to read those texts.Trump, in a pair of tweets, said Tuesday that he would “love” to send Sondland 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.”Luskin said in his statement that 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,” Luskin said, adding that his client “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully.”The New York Times first reported that the Trump administration made the move to block Sondland from speaking before the Democrat-led committees, which are in the midst of an impeachment probe sparked by Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.Trump in that call asked Zelensky to “look into” unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden — Trump’s possible opponent in the 2020 presidential election — and his son, Hunter.Trump also asked Zelensky to “do us a favor though” and investigate Ukraine’s connection to the Russia probe concluded earlier this year by former special counsel Robert Mueller, after the Ukraine leader said his administration was “almost ready to buy more [Javelin missiles] from the United States for defense purposes.”Neither the White House nor the State Department immediately responded to CNBC’s request for comment. Spokespersons for the House committees did not immediately provide a response to CNBC’s requests for comment.House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was expected to address the situation publicly at 9:30 a.m. ET, the time Sondland was scheduled to appear.Also see: Months before the July call, former Trump officials and lobbyists dined with Zelensky campaign officials at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.Read Luskin’s full statement below:Early this morning, the U.S. Department of State directed Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview before the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Committee. 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. 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.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. Arrangements had already been made with Joint Committee staff regarding the logistics of his testimony. Ambassador Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully.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.

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