Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

Trump escalates impeachment fight, barring envoy's testimony

Open source Open source
Robin Buchanan | 10 October, 2019, 03:51

House committee chairmen quickly declared they would subpoena the envoy to force him to appear.

The State Department is blocking US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from appearing for scheduled Tuesday morning testimony before Congress.

Luskin said Sondland - a wealthy hotel investor and major donor to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign - had travelled from Brussels to Washington and was prepared to testify.

In their messages, top U.S. diplomats discussed leveraging a potential summit between Trump and Ukraine's newly inaugurated President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a pledge to investigate 2016 election interference and a company that employed the son of Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the Democrat race to challenge Trump in 2020.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, is scheduled to make a public statement on the Trump Administration's move to block Sondland's testimony later this morning.

"By preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation's security", Schiff said. Sondland, wrapped up in a congressional impeachment inquiry, was a late convert to Trump, initially supporting another candidate in the Republican primary and once refusing to participate in a fundraiser on his behalf.

Volker testified last week in the impeachment inquiry into Trump but his full testimony has not been released, though a copy of his prepared remarks was leaked.


Sondland was a Seattle-based hotelier until Trump nominated him to his position as ambassador in May.

In the exchanges, Sondland told Taylor that Trump was not trying to use Ukraine's military aid as leverage.

Mr Schiff has requested those communications, but "the State Department is withholding those messages as well", he said.

Sondland's absence raised questions about whether other witnesses called by the committee would appear.

Luskin said the ambassador "hopes" the State Department's qualms that "precludes his testimony will be resolved promptly".

"As a sitting U.S. ambassador to the European Union and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction", the statement explained, adding that Sondland was "profoundly disappointed" that he was not able to testify on Tuesday and hoped "the issues raised by the State Department" would be resolved. He "is profoundly disappointed he will not be able to testify today". Articles of impeachment, including for obstruction, could be drafted by the end of the year.

"Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk's point that President Zelenskyy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics", Ambassador William "Bill" Taylor, the charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Kiev, wrote on July 21.


"They can do the investigation in more or less any order they want", said Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of a book on impeachment.

"Given the House of Representatives' behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine", Graham said in a tweet.

House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for documents, but Giuliani said he would not cooperate with them.

In those texts, Sondland tried to shut down a diplomat who questioned withholding aid from Ukraine. A whistleblower complaint about a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, prompted the inquiry.

Though Democrats have asserted a "quid pro quo" between Zelensky probing former Vice President Joe Biden's role in the 2016 ousting a top prosecutor who was probing a company that paid Biden's son until earlier this year, the transcript of the call showed that Trump asked Zelensky to "look into" Biden but promised nothing in return.

Text messages made public last week show Mr Sondland discussing with other United States diplomats an effort to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate Mr Biden.

The impeachment inquiry has heightened bitter partisan divisions in Congress. Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate while Democrats have a majority in the House.


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