Sondland will defy State Department order not to testify in impeachment probe, lawyer says

Three days after State Department officials, in a post-midnight phone call, ordered Gordon Sondland, a central player in the Ukraine controversy, not to testify in the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, his lawyer said on Friday that he will appear before Congress next week.

“Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying next Thursday,” Robert Luskin, Sondland’s attorney, said in a statement.

Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had been called to testify in private before three House committees on Tuesday, but the State Department directed him not to show up. Luskin told Yahoo News that Sondland got the order from a State Department official in a phone call at 12:30 a.m. on the morning he was scheduled to appear.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff blasted the Trump administration for blocking Sondland’s testimony, saying that Sondland had turned over to the State Department text messages or emails “deeply relevant” to the investigation, but that the department had refused to provide them to Congress.

In his statement Friday, Luskin said that his client cannot turn over those documents under federal law.

“The State Department has sole authority to produce such documents, and Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony.”

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Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the EU
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Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the EU
ARCHIVO - En esta foto del 10 de julio del 2018, el presidente estadounidense Donald Trump es acompañado por Gordon Sondland, embajador ante la Unión Europea, al llegar a la Base Aérea Melsbroek, en Bruselas, Bélgica (AP Foto/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, and European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speak with reporters about trade as they travel with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Jared Kushner, center, and US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, right, meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, listens as European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speaks with reporters about trade as he travels with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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The announcement came hours before Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was scheduled to testify before the same committees as part of the House impeachment probe. Yovanovitch was removed from her post, reportedly because she objected to the backchannel communications between Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and the government of Ukraine.

Sondland, a businessman and investor whose companies donated at least $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, was appointed by Trump in May 2018. Ukraine is not part of the European Union, but he has said he took on special assignments from Trump outside his nominal duties.

In text messages released last week, Sondland was party to key exchanges on whether the White House was withholding a military aid package for Ukraine as part of a “quid pro quo” in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, wrote in a text message to Sondland at 12:47 a.m. on Sept. 9.

Some hours later, during which Sondland reportedly consulted with Trump, he replied: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intensions (sic). 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.”

He then added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

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