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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Gordon Sondland (Image source: Public domain)
House Democrats wasted no time in subpoenaing the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Not only did they issue the subpoena, but they said Trump blocking him from testifying is obstruction.
The ambassador was expected to testify in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, the result of the whistleblower's complaint that alleges in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that Trump was implying he was going to withhold aid from Ukraine.
He implied there would be no aide until they completed the investigations he wanted of Trump's former and projected current Democratic presidential opponents, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated late last week that he would not be handing over documents that were requested in the inquiry and that he wouldn't allow other State employees to testify either.
The White House also issued a letter to the committee chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry and informed him no one would be testifying. Trump backed the whole thing, accusing the House Democrats of running a "kangaroo court."
This led Democrats to subpoena Sondland for both his testimony and documents that they believe are being withheld by the State Department. They are demanding the documents be handed over by October 14 and that the ambassador sit for a deposition on October 16.
"We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry," said House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY) in a joint statement.
Sondland's testimony would be key after he was included in recently-released text messages with other diplomats discussing Trump's plan to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens by withholding aid and the promise of a visit to the White House.
"As the sitting U.S. ambassador to the E.U. and employee of the State Department, Amasssador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction," said Robert Luskin, his attorney, in a statement.
"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."
Through Luskin, Sondland said he was still hoping he'll be permitted to testify and said blocking his appearance indicates the Trump administration is still preventing officials from cooperating with congressional inquiries.
"I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, 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," tweeted Trump the same day.
He also highlighted Sondland's text message that was released where he said there was no quid pro quo.
Schiff said his committee was blindsided by Sondland not appearing on Tuesday, as there were "conversations well into yesterday afternoon and evening with the State Department legal adviser where there was no indication that this ambassador would be a no-show."
"It is hard to overstate the significance of not just Ambassador Sondland's testimony and documents but the testimony of others as well," he added. "The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a co-equal branch of government."
Also disappointed in Sondland not being allowed to testify was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), noting that he and Trump's other congressional allies do "understand the reason why the State Department decided not to have Ambassador Sondland appear today," and also used it as a chance to attack Schiff.
"It's based on the unfair and partisan process that Mr. Schiff has been running."
Former American ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is still expected to testify on Friday. She was fired in May for not supporting Trump's agenda with Ukraine.
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