Gordon Sondland, Donald Trump's ambassador to the European Union, was supposed to appear before Congress on Tuesday for a deposition. He's a key figure for Democrats' impeachment inquiry over the president's Ukraine scandal, but, at the last minute, the State Department ordered Sondland not to attend. It's a sign that the Trump administration will likely stonewall Congress at every available opportunity, and sets up a major clash between the executive and legislative branches.
The law firm representing Sondland issued a statement:
Early this morning, the U.S. Department of State directed Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview before the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Committee. Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee's questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction.
Congress is interested in hearing from Sondland specifically after text messages came out showing him discussing Ukraine military aid with other high-ranking diplomats. In one particularly noteworthy exchange, Bill Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in the Ukrainian embassy, texted Sondland, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Sondland's reply came more than five hours later and reads like carefully crafted we-did-not-do-crimes: "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. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign."
On Twitter, Trump claimed that Democrats left him with no other choice but to order Sondland not to appear before Congress, saying, "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."
The Democrats are expected to subpoena Sondland in response. As the Wall Street Journal reports though, Congress doesn't have many options for dealing with reluctant witnesses. Democrats can try to get a federal judge to compel Sondland to testify, but that process can take months and Congress is already embroiled in court cases trying to force current and former Trump officials to comply.
In a statement Tuesday morning, Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President Trump’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents."
Trump's die-hard allies in Congress are also circling their wagons though. In an impromptu press conference, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who spent two years investigating the Obama administration's response to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, accused Schiff of running an "unfair, partisan process." Florida Republican Matt Gaetz said, "What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo."
The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he "can't imagine" any Trump officials will actually appear before Congress.
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Originally Appeared on GQ