White House Bars Official From Testifying, Bringing Calls Of ‘Strong Evidence Of Obstruction’

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One and traveling to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center October 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, Trump will be visiting injured military service members. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump administration barred Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, from closed-door testimony as several committees are investigating President Donald Trump’s dealings with the president of Ukraine.

Text messages released last week revealed conversations between Sondland and other U.S. diplomats who were intermediaries as Trump urged Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s family and the 2016 election.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the failure of a State Department official to show up at a deposition Tuesday as part of House Democrats’ impeachment investigation is “yet additional strong evidence” of obstruction of Congress.

Schiff and other Democrats have said that they will consider such obstruction if they draft articles of impeachment against the president.

An attorney for Sondland says the State Department directed his client not to appear for a scheduled interview Tuesday before a joint House committee taking depositions in the impeachment probe of the Republican president.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he’d “love” to send Ambassador Gordon Sondland to testify before Congress but doing so would put him before “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”

Trump says in a tweet the “true facts are not allowed out for the public.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ignored a shouted question about Sondland during a photo op with the visiting foreign minister of Estonia.

House Democrats are looking into Trump’s handling of U.S. relations with Ukraine and his desire for Ukraine to investigate potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden. Trump has denied doing anything wrong.

Sondland is wrapped up in the congressional impeachment inquiry and had previously agreed to appear voluntarily Tuesday to answer the committee’s questions in a closed session.

Sondland attorney Robert Luskin says that as the sitting U.S. ambassador to the European Union and an employee of the State Department, Sondland is required to follow the department’s direction. No reason for the direction was cited, he said.

Luskin says Sondland “is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify.”

Luskin says Sondland “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States.”

Sondland was a late convert to President Donald Trump, initially supporting another candidate in the Republican primary and once refusing to participate in a fundraiser on his behalf.

But Sondland nonetheless donated $1 million to Trump’s election effort and ultimately scored a post as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Now, a whistleblower’s complaint and text messages released by another envoy portray Sondland as a potentially important witness to allegations the Republican president sought to dig up dirt on rival Joe Biden in the name of foreign policy.

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