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Trump administration blocks Gordon Sondland from testifying before Congress

Trump administration blocks Gordon Sondland from testifying before Congress

 | October 08, 2019 08: 24 AM

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Updated Oct 08, 2019, 09: 02 AM

Just hours before United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was set to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the administration pulled the plug on the testimony.
The move comes after threats from House Democrats that if the administration doesn’t comply, they will see the move as an act of obstruction, a potentially impeachable offense.
Sondland, 62, is a figure at the center of the Ukrainian investigation stemming from a whistleblower complaint of wrongdoing by the president. The complaint alleges that Trump unduly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate aspects of the 2016 presidential election and political rival Joe Biden. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
Last week, text messages were released on the same day as congressional testimony from former State Department envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, with Sondland and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine William Taylor from before and after a July 25 phone call that is a central part of the complaint. A transcript of that call was released to the public the day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry.
Sondland was specifically directed by the State Department not to comply with the Tuesday request to speak to investigators. His attorney, Robert Luskin, told the New York Times that Sondland was fully prepared to testify and would be willing to do so in the future, but because he is a State Department employee, he must comply with the administration’s direction.
“Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today. 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,” Luskin said.
A key tenant of the complaint is the alleged existence of some sort of quid pro quo between Washington and Kyiv. Democrats are looking into whether the administration conditionally withheld military aid. On Sept. 1, Taylor texted Sondland about potential requirements for arranging a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor asked Sondland, although the answer to that question isn’t clear as Sondland replied by directing Taylor to call him.
Messages from a Sept. 7 call show that Taylor was worried about interactions between the White House and Ukraine.
“The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario,” Taylor said. “Counting on you to be right about this interview, Gordon.”
Sondland replied, “Bill, I never said I was ‘right.’ I said we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Lets hope it works.”
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor responded. Sondland denied that a “quid pro quo” existed and said Trump instead was looking whether Zelensky was “truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms” that were promised during his campaign. He also urged Taylor to “stop the back and forth by text.”
Sondland has served in his current role since July of last year.
This is a breaking story and will be updated …

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