Democrats subpoena diplomat in impeachment inquiry

Gordon Sondland the United States Ambassador to the European Union adresses the media during a press conference at the US Embassy to Romania in Bucharest on Sept. 5 2019

The Trump administration has blocked Gordon Sondland, President Trump's ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before Congress Tuesday. Sondland was involved as Trump urged the country to investigate political rival Joe Biden's family and the 2016 election. Through his lawyer on Tuesday, he said he hoped "the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly".

Sondland said he "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".

Monday, the committee chairmen subpoenaed records, to be turned over by October 15, from the Defense Department and White House budget office - and requested the same from the White House and Vice President Mike Pence last weekend.

Joe Biden admitted previous year that he threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid to Ukraine in 2016 unless then-President Petro Poroshenko ousted a prosecutor who was probing Ukraine.

The White House has declared it will not co-operate with what it termed an "illegitimate" impeachment probe by House of Representative Democrats, setting up a constitutional clash between US President Donald Trump and Congress.

"The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider [it] yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a co-equal branch of government".

The White House letter to Pelosi, Schiff and other House committee chairmen, though asserting a legal argument that Trump and other officials can not cooperate, would not be likely to win respect in court, said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

The House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees are investigating President Donald Trump's actions pressing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, potentially interfering in the 2020 election.

Trump indicated on Tuesday morning that it was his decision to stop the deposition, tweeting that he would "love to send Ambassador Sondland" to testify, "but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court".

Text messages released last week revealed conversations between Sondland and two other US diplomats who were acting as intermediaries as the president urged Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden's family and the 2016 USA election.

After the call, Sondland assured another diplomat in a text message that there were "no quid pro quo's of any kind" with Ukraine.

Following the allegations that Trump pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Biden while withholding the military aid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment investigation last month.

Concerns about the July 25 call, and possible Trump threats to Ukraine, came to the attention of Congress in a report by a whistleblower. On Sunday, lawyers said a second whistleblower had come forward to substantiate that complaint.

Kurt Volker, the former USA envoy to Ukraine, spent some 10 hours behind closed doors on Thursday with the committees, providing a deposition and text messages.

Another career diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, is scheduled to meet with the committees behind closed doors on Friday.

Said Luskin in a statement: "As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction".

Text messages released by House Democrats last week show Sondland working with another of Trump's diplomats, former Ukrainian envoy Kurt Volker, to get Ukraine to agree to investigate any potential interference in the 2016 US election and to probe the Ukrainian energy company that appointed Biden's son Hunter to its board.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, is scheduled to make a public statement on the Trump Administration's move to block Sondland's testimony later this morning.

For only the fourth time in US history, the House of Representatives has started a presidential impeachment inquiry.

House Democrats are seeking grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation investigation as they conduct their impeachment inquiry.

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