Report: WH orders U.S. ambassador to EU not to appear for House testimony
By Patricia Zengerle
11 mins ago
Update: The Trump administration directed U.S. diplomat Gordon Sondland not to appear for a schedule House deposition on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images Lawmakers are expected to ask Gordon Sondland to explain why he became involved in dealings with Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — Congress's impeachment investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump turns on Tuesday to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and the role he may have played in trying to get Ukraine to probe Trump's political rival Joseph Biden.
Gordon Sondland, who donated $1 million to the Republican president's inauguration committee, will meet behind closed doors with staff of three Democratic-led House committees.
The impeachment probe is focusing on a whistleblower's allegations that Trump leveraged nearly $400 million in aid to secure a promise from Ukraine's president to investigate former vice president Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees' staff are expected to ask Sondland to explain why he became involved in dealings with Ukraine, which is not a member of the European Union.
Sondland was a Seattle-based hotelier until Trump nominated him to his position as ambassador in May. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June and presented his credentials at the European Commission in July.
According to text messages released by House committee leaders last week, Sondland was heavily involved in contacts with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as he sought a meeting with Trump, and Ukrainian officials expressed concern at the administration's decision to block nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance for Kiev.
In one of the texts, for example, Sondland emphasized that Trump "really wants the deliverable."
Charges that Trump pressured Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a leading rival in Trump's 2020 re-election bid, while withholding the military aid, helped prompt House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment investigation last month.
Trump has denied wrongdoing.
Concerns about the call, and possible Trump threats to Ukraine, came to the attention of Congress in a report by a whistleblower. On Sunday, lawyers said a second whistleblower had come forward to substantiate that complaint.
Sondland's appearance marks a shift for the investigation because he is a Trump donor and political appointee. Previous witnesses have been career officials, including the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Slide 1 of 57: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019.
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On Sept. 25, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated an impeachment inquiry against President Trump, following the whistle-blower complaint over his dealings with Ukraine. Select Congressional committees returned to the Capitol to continue impeachment proceedings throughout the week as Congress remains on recess.
(Pictured) President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, on Oct. 7.
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An aerial view of the house of Mykola Zlochevsky, near Kyiv, Ukraine, owner of the gas company Burisma that hired Hunter Biden in 2014, on Oct. 6. Ukraine's chief prosecutor has announced a review of past cases against Zlochevsky.
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White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks with reporters outside the White House, on Oct. 7, in Washington. Kudlow said that the U.S. has never raised former Vice President Joe Biden and his son during trade talks with China.
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A sticker calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump is adhered to a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court building at the start of the court's new term on Oct. 7, in Washington, DC. With Chief Justice John Roberts in the lead, the court is scheduled to hear cases involving gun control, abortion, L.G.B.T. rights and immigration during this term.
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A member of the US Secret Service walks past a security line after closing Lafayette Park outside the White House on Oct. 6 in Washington. A second whistle-blower has come forward, this one with first-hand information of the events that triggered an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump for alleged abuse of power, the informant's lawyer said.
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Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, left, both members of the House Intelligence Committee, talk to reporters as they leave a closed-door meeting with national intelligence inspector general Michael Atkinson about a whistleblower complaint, in Washington, on Oct. 4.
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Rep. Adam Schiff (L) (D-CA) Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence walks to a meeting with Michael Atkinson, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, at the the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 4, in Washington.
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President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, on Oct. 4, in Washington, D.C.
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Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, arrives at the Capitol where he will go behind closed doors to be questioned about the whistleblower complaint that exposed a July phone call the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed for an investigation of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4.
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U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY) speaks to reporters as Kurt Volker, U.S. President Donald Trump's former envoy to Ukraine, is interviewed in nearby offices by staff for three House of Representatives committees as part of the impeachment inquiry into the president's dealings with Ukraine, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Oct. 3.
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Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, arrives for a closed-door interview with House investigators, as House Democrats proceed with the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3.
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President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3, before boarding Marine One for a trip to Florida. He told reporters, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine."
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is joined by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., at a news conference as House Democrats move ahead in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 2.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, joined by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., right, arrive for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 2.
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 2.
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters during a meeting with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 2.
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John Dean, (L) former White House counsel under Richard Nixon, speaks during a town hall on impeachment with U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (R) (D-CA) at James Logan High School on Oct. 1, in Union City, California.
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The entrance to a secure facility used by the House Intelligence Committee is seen on Oct. 1.
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., joined by Communications Director Emilie Simons, walks to a secure facility in the Capitol to prepare for depositions in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump on Oct. 1.
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A statue of former President Richard Nixon is on display along with those of other former vice presidents outside the Senate chamber in the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 1, in Washington, DC. Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974, after facing near-certainty that he would be impeached and removed from office.
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Tourists view the White House in Washington on Oct. 1, as House Democrats are moving aggressively in their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media on Oct. 1, in Kiev, Ukraine.
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President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as he departs a ceremonial swearing in ceremony for new Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 30.
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Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, participate in an Armed Forces welcome ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley on Sept. 30, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.
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Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, defended himself on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" from accusations lodged by a former White House official that he has trafficked unfounded theories about foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, on Sept. 29.
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(L-R) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) hold a news conference to mark 200 days since they passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on Sept. 27. Following the release of a whistle-blower complaint about abuse of power, the House Democratic leadership announced this week that it is launching a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
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The first page of the unclassified memorandum of U.S. President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is shown on Sept. 27.
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Members of Congress and activists support an immediate inquiry towards articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the “Impeachment Now!” rally on Sept. 26, in Washington, D.C.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26, in Washington, DC. Speaker Pelosi discussed an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
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Brett Heinz of Washington and other activists rally for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, on Sept. 26.
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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a news conference on Sept. 26, in Essex Junction, Vt., where he said he supports an impeachment inquiry into the actions of President Donald Trump. Scott is the first Republican governor to publicly come out in favor of the impeachment inquiry, but says he wants to know the facts before any further actions are taken.
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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. holds up a copy of a White House-released rough transcript of a phone call between President Donald Trump and the President of Ukraine as Schumer speaks to the media about an impeachment inquiry on President Trump, on Sept. 25, on Capitol Hill.
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A woman hands out fake "special editions" of the Washington Post to passing pedestrians while taking part in a demonstration in support of impeachment hearings in New York, on Sept. 26.
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Ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., talks to Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, after Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 26.
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A member of the audience holds a copy of the whistle-blower complaint letter sent to Senate and House Intelligence Committees during testimony by Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire before the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 26.
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A woman holds a sign about whistleblowers in a cafe near President Donald Trump’s motorcade as he attends a campaign fundraiser nearby in New York, on Sept. 26.
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., questions Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire,as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26.
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Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26.
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Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., questions Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26.
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Joseph Maguire testifies on Sept. 26.
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U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) reacts after conferring with U.S. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) as Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, testifies during a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26.
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Joseph Maguire prepares to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on the whistleblower complaint against President Trump on Sept. 26.
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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26 in Washington. Leader McCarthy discussed an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives at the Capitol, on Sept. 26, just as Joseph Maguire is set to speak publicly for the first time about a secret whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump.
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President Trump speaks during a news conference at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can be seen standing on the right.
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Pages of a White House-released rough transcript of President Donald Trump's July 25, 2019 telephone conversation with Ukraine's newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy are seen on Sept. 25.
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters on Sept. 25.
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is surrounded by reporters as she arrives to meet with her caucus on Sept. 25.
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U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of House Judiciary Committee, arrives with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) at a House Democratic Caucus meeting, on Sept. 25, in Washington.
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U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), and House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) look on during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, on Sept. 25, in Washington.
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People stop to look at newspaper front pages, from around the US, on display at the Newseum in Washington, a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump, on Sept. 25.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of President Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Sept. 24.
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Protesters with "Kremlin Annex" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, on Sept. 24.
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House Speaker Pelosi walks towards the podium to speak to the media to announce the formal impeachment, on Sept. 24.
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House Speaker Pelosi departs a closed-door meeting with the House Democratic Caucus as support grows within her ranks for an impeachment inquiry amid reports that President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family, on Sept. 24.
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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) leaves a meeting with House Speaker Pelosi and walks to a meeting with the House Democratic caucus to discuss launching possible impeachment proceedings against President Trump, on Sept. 24.
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Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden makes a statement on Ukraine during a press conference, on Sept. 24, in Wilmington, Delaware.
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Another career diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, will meet with the committees behind closed doors on Friday. Yovanovitch was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until Trump recalled her in May before her term was up, after Trump supporters questioned her loyalty.
The impeachment inquiry has heightened bitter partisan divides in Congress, where Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate and Democrats have a majority in the House.
Trump has reacted furiously to the inquiry, using obscenities and insulting nicknames for Democratic lawmakers in posts on Twitter. Administration officials — and some Republican allies in Congress — have questioned whether they have any obligation to cooperate with the inquiry.
The White House was expected to tell Pelosi this week that it would ignore lawmakers' demands for documents until the House holds a vote to approve the impeachment inquiry.
Pelosi says a vote is not needed, although Democrats say the House would back the inquiry if there were a vote.
Tuesday's committee meeting with Sondland was to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET and could last for hours. Volker was interviewed on Thursday for more than eight hours by House members and staff.
The impeachment investigation could lead to the approval by the House of formal charges against Trump.
A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Trump continues to enjoy nearly unwavering support from members of his party.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman