Thursday, 17 October, 2019

USA sent blocked from Trump impeachment inquiry

Open source Open source
Patty Aguilar | 09 October, 2019, 22:16

The State Department on Tuesday blocked a top U.S. diplomat from speaking to Congress as part of Democratic lawmakers' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

"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", the law firm representing Sondland said in a statement. But the four other officials, including Sondland, remain State Department employees.

Sondland, the hotelier appointed ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to Trump's inauguration in 2016, has emerged as a key figure in the Ukraine controversy, which was set off after Trump asked the Ukraine government to dig up dirt on Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

A whistleblower's report first brought to light a possible quid pro quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine's new president Volodymoyr Zelensky.

Text messages released last week revealed conversations between Sondland and two other USA diplomats who were acting as intermediaries as the president urged Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden's family and the 2016 US election.

- House Democrats subsequently subpoenaed Sondland after he failed to show up at his scheduled deposition.

Sondland's appearance would have followed officials, including the former US special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the USA intelligence community. "As the sitting ambassador to the European Union and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the department's direction".

Notably, Schiff also said the State Department is withholding text messages or emails Sondland has on a personal device.

Five State Department officials have been asked to sit for depositions with the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and longtime Republican donor, has been vocal in his support for the president's dealings with Ukraine.

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They say they'll subpoena the ambassador for his testimony and communications on his personal devices that have not been turned over.

He had no diplomatic experience, United States media report, before Mr Trump nominated him to his position as ambassador in May.

Sondland's attorney said in a statement that his client was "profoundly disappointed" that he wasn't able to talk to the committees.

Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said Sondland's no-show was "yet additional strong evidence" of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sondland's boss.

Sondland's testimony was much anticipated amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats against Trump.

President Trump said Mr Sondland would only have been appearing before a "short kangaroo". But it's his work with Volker on Ukraine that has embroiled him in this controversy and made him a key witness. At the time, the government in Kiev was eagerly awaiting the release of almost $400 million in US military aid and the arrangement of a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"As I said on the phone, I think it's insane to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign", Taylor replied.

Sondland responds that he is "incorrect about President Trump's intentions". The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The investigators are interested in what the ambassador knew and what his role was in Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the field of potential challengers to the Republican president.

"The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign".

Trump cited that text, which he referred to as a tweet, in his defense Tuesday, writing, "That says it ALL!"

Sondland then suggests to the group take the conversations off line, typing, "I suggest we stop the back and forth by text".

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