Witness in Trump-Ukraine Matter Ordered Not to Speak in Impeachment Inquiry
By Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos, New York Times
Oct. 8, 2019, 8:08 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled deposition with House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment.
But in making the decision on Tuesday, hours before he was scheduled to sit for a deposition in the basement of the Capitol, the Trump administration appears to be making the calculation that it is better off risking the House’s ire than letting Mr. Sondland show up and set a precedent for cooperation with an inquiry they have strenuously argued is illegitimate.
Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning scandal into how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate his political rivals. Although Ukraine is not in the union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and campaign contributor — to take a lead in relations between the Trump administration and the country. Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired between the two countries.
Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.
Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, about the statement, believing they needed pacify him in order to pacify Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump and allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press