State Dept Orders Sondland Not To Appear For Testimony Before House

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing on June 11, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
October 8, 2019 8:27 a.m.

Just one hour before the House was set to depose U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the State Department ordered the ambassador not to appear before the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, CNN and the Associated Press were first to report.

Sondland with comply with the State Department’s order, according to his lawyer.

In a statement from Sondland’s attorney Robert Luskin shared with TPM Tuesday morning, Luskin said Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision as he voluntarily agreed to testify and had traveled to Washington, D.C. from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony.

“Early this morning, the U.S. Department of State directed Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview before the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Committee. Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the committee’s questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,” Luskin said.

“Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today. Ambassador Sondland traveled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the committee’s questions. Arrangements had already been made with joint committee staff regarding the logistics of his testimony.  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.

“Ambassador Sondland hopes that the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly.  He stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear.”

Trump indicated in a tweet on Tuesday morning that the order had come from him, arguing that he would’ve sent Sondland to testify if the thought the committee’s probe was legitimate.

The envoy was set to appear voluntarily before the congressional committees. Sondland became entangled in the House’s impeachment inquiry following the release of text messages last week that revealed he played an active role in the Trump-Giuliani pressure campaign to get Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Sondland and another U.S. diplomat — Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, who resigned in the wake of the evolving Ukraine scandal and testified before Congress last week — repeatedly communicated with Ukrainian officials about opening an investigation into Trump’s political objectives. The two even drafted specific language for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to use to announce the probes. Zelensky never actually made the announcement.

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