The Trump administration ordered a top diplomat and key witness in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump not to speak to House Democrats at a deposition scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was present at key moments detailed in documents related to the impeachment investigation and was ordered by the State Department not to appear before the House Joint Committee on Tuesday morning, according to a statement released by his attorney.
“Ambassador Sonland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today,” the statement read. “Ambassador Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully.”
Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Sondland worked with other diplomats on a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to release that would have committed him to investigations Trump wished to carry out that may have been damaging to political rival Joe Biden.
The transcript of a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that Trump urged Zelensky to look into corruption allegations against Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was formerly a board member of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Over a week before the phone call, Trump ordered the State Department and Pentagon to withhold $391 million marked by Congress for military aid to Ukraine. The timing of events has raised allegations that Trump used the military aid package as a bargaining chip to pressure Zelensky to investigate a political rival.
Some of the text messages revealed to Congress show Sondland and U.S. diplomat Bill Taylor discussing certain aspects of the military aid and whether it was withheld as part of a quid-pro-quo, which Sondland then denied.
On September 9 Taylor wrote to Sondland, “The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us.” Later in the discussion Taylor wrote, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign”
Sondland responded to the last message after a space of four and a half hours, writing, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wisc.) said last week that at the end of August he had discussed the issue of military aid to Ukraine with Sondland. According to Johnson, Sondland informed him that aid to the country was contingent on whether it conducted the investigations into the Bidens that Trump had urged.
Johnson brought up the issue with Trump, who flatly denied Sondland’s assertion.