US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, has been directed by the Trump administration not to appear for a Tuesday morning interview scheduled in the House's impeachment inquiry, reports the New York Times.
Sondland was prominently featured in a text exchange revealed last week in which US diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, said in early September "As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," referring to nearly $400 million in military aid withheld from Ukraine.
Sondland made a phone call to Trump, who said that assertion was false. Sondland then texted back: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions," adding "The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind."
"I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
The decision has riled the three House committees seeking to speak with Sondland, which may result in what Times suggests could be "potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump." House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) says the failure to deliver Sondland is obstruction - a charge itself which carries the potential for impeachment.
Schiff also claims that the State Department is withholding text messages.
"There was no indication that [Sondland] would be a no show. Not only is he being deprived of his testimony today, but we're also aware that the ambassador has text messages or emails on a personal device, which have been provided to the State Department — although we have requested those from the ambassador. And the State Department is withholding those messages as well. Those messages are also deeply relevant to this investigation and the impeachment inquiry," said Schiff.
According to the Times, the Trump administration is prepared for the consequences of preventing Sondland from testifying.
...in making the decision, hours before he was scheduled to sit for a deposition in the basement of the Capitol, the Trump administration appears to be calculating that it is better off risking the House’s ire than letting Mr. Sondland show up and set a precedent for cooperation with an inquiry they have strenuously argued is illegitimate. -New York Times
"Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today," said Sondland's lawyer, Robert Luskin - saying that his client had no choice but to comply with the administration's order. "Ambassador Sondland 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."
Sondland was asked by Trump to take the lead in relations between the Trump administration and Ukraine, making him a key witness to US relations with former Soviet state.
The Times repeats the lie that Trump asked Zelensky to do him a "favor" and investigate the Bidens. As we've repeated ad nasueum, the "favor" was in relation to locating the lost DNC server. One can verify this for themselves by simply reading a transcript of their July 25 phone call.
Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. -New York Times
The Times also calls Ukraine election meddling to help Hillary Clinton in 2016 a "conspiracy theory," despite a Ukrainian court finding that Artem Sytnyk, Ukraine's Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had "acted illegally" by revealing that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's name was contained in an off-book "black ledger" of payments.
According to text messages given to Congress last week, Sondland and another senior diplomat worked together on a statement they wanted Zelensky to make in AUgust which would have committed him to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter over allegations of corruption. Sondland and another senior diplomat consulted with President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on the statement.
If he does end up testifying, Sondland will be in a position to reveal whether the withheld military aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening investigations into the Bidens.