WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Tuesday blocked an ambassador from testifying to the US House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, a move top House Democrats vowed to counter with a subpoena.
The chairmen of three House committees leading the impeachment investigation said they would compel testimony from US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor who started his diplomatic job in July. The investigators are interested in what the ambassador knew and what his role was in Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the field of potential challengers to the Republican president.
Through his lawyer on Tuesday, Sondland said he hoped “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,” Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said in a statement.
State Department officials could not be immediately reached to comment on what issues had blocked his testimony.
The impeachment probe is focusing on a whistleblower’s allegations that Trump used nearly $400 million in US military aid to secure a promise from Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The whistleblower’s legal team was in the final stages of talks for the intelligence officer to speak to both Democratic and Republican-led congressional intelligence committees as early as this week, congressional officials said.
Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee spearheading the impeachment probe, told reporters the move to block Sondland from testifying or turning over his text messages or emails was obstruction.
“We will consider this act today ... to be further acts of obstruction of a coequal branch of government,” Schiff told reporters.
Sondland was a key witness for the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees, whose staff had been expected to ask him why he became involved in dealings with Ukraine, which is not a member of the EU.
Trump has derided the impeachment inquiry and has denied he did anything wrong in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pushed for an investigation of Biden and his son.
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2019