Trump diplomat scheduled to testify in House in Ukraine inquiry
Oct. 08, 2019
Oct. 8 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump's ambassador to the European Union is scheduled to testify Tuesday before three House committees that are leading Democrats' impeachment inquiry into the president's dealings with Ukraine.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland is set to speak privately to the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees. The chairmen of each panel is looking to determine whether Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine to pressure leader Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
It's unclear, however, if Sondland will appear. The New York Times reported Tuesday the White House has ordered the ambassador not to testify.
Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and longtime Republican donor, has so far been vocal in his support for the president's dealings with Ukraine. The committees interviewed two former diplomatic officials in the inquiry last week.
Sondland, 62, is one the diplomats involved in numerous text messages released by the committees last week that show discussions about Trump and a July phone call with Zelensky, which was the subject of at least one whistle-blower report.
In the messages, diplomat William Taylor expressed concern about Trump pressuring Zelensky.
"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor said in a Sept. 9 text message.
Hours later, Sondland replied, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions."
"The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind," he added. "The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
Taylor signaled in one message he might resign over frustration with how the situation was being handled.
The committees are expected to press Sondland about the text messages and any follow-up phone calls.
"They're confusing international cooperation on economic and military and security objectives with the president converting the office of the presidency into an instrument of reelection and an instrument of private self-enrichment," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told CNN Monday. "That's what this president has done."
Republicans, however, cite Sondland's text messages as proof that Trump did nothing wrong -- since he states in one message that Trump's intention was not to use the Congress-approved military aid as leverage to investigate the Bidens.
Trump appointed Sondland to the ambassador post last year, succeeding Obama-era diplomat Anthony Gardner.
The committee chairmen on Monday formally subpoenaed records, to be turned over by Oct. 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 .