Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel and Elijah Cummings are not amused with the Trump administration’s latest effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry by blocking the testimony of EU ambassador Gordon Sondland.
The State department on Tuesday instructed Sondland not to appear before Congress. His lawyer said he had no choice but to comply with the directive.
Subsequently, Donald Trump took to Twitter to deride what he called a “kangaroo court”, in explaining why he felt compelled to prevent a key witness from briefing lawmakers.
Sondland is a central figure in the unfolding Beltway drama thanks to his role in pushing Trump’s agenda on the fledgling government of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.
It’s no surprise that the administration sought to prevent him from talking to lawmakers. Text messages delivered to Congress last week by former special envoy Kurt Volker are incriminating and suggest that Sondland consulted with the White House after Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, pressed the EU ambassador as follows: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign”.
Five hours after a worried Taylor sent that message, Sondland texted back with what sounded like a dictated statement from the White House. “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text”, he then told Taylor.
“This morning, we learned from Ambassador Sondland’s personal attorney that the State Department left a voicemail last night at 12:30 a.m. informing them that the Trump Administration would not allow the Ambassador to appear today as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry”, Schiff, Engel and Cummings said, in a statement, adding that Sondland’s lawyers “have informed us that the Ambassador has recovered communications from his personal devices that the Committees requested prior to his interview today”.
Those communications were turned over to the State department, which is now withholding them from Congress. That constitutes defiance of the subpoena issued to Mike Pompeo.
And so, here comes a subpoena for Sondland.
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry”, the committee chairs write. “We will be issuing a subpoena to Ambassador Sondland for both his testimony and documents”.