Shortly before his testimony before a joint closed-door meeting of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees today, the State Department ordered U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland not to appear. A statement issued by Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said that the ambassador was “profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today” and had traveled from Brussels for the testimony and added that he “stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear.”
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment about the decision to order Sondland not to testify. The ambassador was mentioned in a series of text messages obtained by House investigators from then-special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters that Sondland was in possession of documents relating to Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry on his “personal device.”
“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,” Schiff said.
President Trump responded in an uncharacteristically grammatical tweet that he “would love to send Ambassador Sondland… to testify, but unfortunately, he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court….”
The Administration’s decision not to allow Sondland to testify sets up a confrontation with Democrats in Congress. It is unlikely that the Administration’s attempt to stonewall will stymie the impeachment process since it was stonewalling that initially spurred Speaker Pelosi to support an impeachment inquiry, however, the House has not yet voted to officially begin the inquiry.
The next step for House investigators is likely to be a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony. Refusal to cooperate may increase support for the impeachment inquiry, which has already increased markedly over the past few weeks. A new Washington Post-Schar School poll found that Americans support the inquiry by 58-38 percent. Those numbers have almost exactly reversed since July.
The Trump Administration continues to claim that it has done nothing wrong despite the release of a transcript that shows that President Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and Trump’s open call for China to investigate the Bidens. Regardless, the lack of cooperation and the sense that the Administration is covering up its actions seems to be fueling the push for impeachment.