WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) hit out at the State Department on Tuesday for blocking US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland from testifying.
Schiff also told reporters on Capitol Hill that Sondland has relevant texts and emails on a personal device that he gave to State, but which the Trump administration is withholding.
There was no indication until the last minute that Sondland would fail to appear, Schiff said at a press conference arranged after the State Department objected to Sondland’s deposition in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
House Republicans said after Sondland’s no-show that they hoped Sondland would sit for an interview at some point, but understood the administration’s move to block his appearance, given the “kangaroo court” they accused Schiff of running.
The House panels on intelligence, foreign affairs, and oversight are investigating allegations of abuse of office by the President, examining a months-long campaign in which Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine as he sought — aided by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — to convince Kyiv to manufacture political dirt related to his re-election campaign.
Schiff echoed previous language in subpoenas and public statements made by House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry that a failure to cooperate with the probe would constitute “obstruction.”
“We consider [blocking Sondland] yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the functions of Congress — a coequal branch of government,” Schiff told reporters, calling Sondland a “key witness.”
Sondland’s texts and emails could supplement an already growing record of communications among top-level Trump administration diplomats, Giuliani, and Ukrainian officials as part of the pressure campaign.
Sondland — a Trump donor and diplomatic neophyte — swooped in to Ukraine policy following the May 2019 ouster of former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, texts show.
Over the summer, he coordinated with recently resigned U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who provided texts to House investigators last week that laid bare Sondland’s and Volker’s efforts to push Giuliani’s directives on what Ukraine should do. The messages showed Sondland himself rejecting criticism from a career diplomat that it would be “crazy” to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign.
Trump’s top GOP allies in the House spoke to reporters for nearly 20 minutes after Schiff’s remarks, during which they lobbed several criticisms of the House-run “fairy tale” probe and accused Democrats of cherrypicking the State Department texts they made public.
“Adam Schiff is misleading you and you’re playing along with it — many of you are — and the American public is then getting deceived,” Zeldin (R-NY) lectured the press, while calling the inquiry a “political charade” and “clown show.”
Most of their complaints — which they delivered with gusto and indignancy — were aimed at the process so far, and they specifically called for the release of the transcript from Volker’s House interview last week before Sondland appeared.
Asked about Trump’s underlying behavior and Trump asking Ukraine and China to investigate Joe Biden, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said he had “no” concerns about the conduct.
“The President’s doing his job,” Jordan said. “When you’re talking about the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people going to a foreign government, the president is going to make sure that there isn’t corruption there.”