House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff blasted President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for blocking Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a central player in the Ukraine controversy, from testifying Tuesday in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president.
Schiff told reporters that Sondland had turned text messages or emails “deeply relevant” to the investigation over to the State Department, but that the State Department is refusing to provide those to Congress.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction,” Schiff told reporters. “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.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she agrees that Trump's efforts to block Sondland from testifying represents obstruction.
"It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way," Pelosi said. "And that is one of the reasons we have an impeachment inquiry."
Last week, Kurt Volker, former American special envoy to Ukraine, provided testimony and text messages showing senior U.S. diplomats both coordinating and simultaneously expressing concern about Trump’s withholding of military assistance to Ukraine unless the country’s new president agreed to help dig up political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Earlier Tuesday, Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said the State Department had directed his client not to appear for his scheduled closed-door depositions in the impeachment probe.
“Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify,” Luskin said in a statement. “Ambassador Sondland traveled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the Committee’s questions.”
No reason was given, Luskin said. Sondland, whose companies donated at least $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, had agreed to appear voluntarily. House Democrats said they would subpoena the ambassador for both his testimony and documents.
Luskin said Sondland “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States.”
On Twitter, Trump suggested he made the decision to block Sondland’s testimony.
“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 Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see,” Trump tweeted.
The president highlighted a text message from Sondland, released by House Democrats last week, in which the ambassador asserted there were “no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Trump incorrectly referred to the message as a tweet.
“Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, ‘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 wrote on Twitter. “That says it ALL!”
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