Democrats to subpoena Sondland

The chairmen of the three House committees leading Democrats' impeachment inquiry said Tuesday they will issue a subpoena to a key official that the State Department blocked from testifying.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was scheduled to appear for a deposition before the committees on Tuesday until the State Department moved early in the morning to prevent his testimony.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House spokesperson: Media's 'obsession' with impeachment 'won't let up' Trump rips Chuck Todd for 'softball' Schiff interview Democrats, Republicans tussle over witnesses as vote approaches MORE (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBaltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Pelosi taps Virginia Democrat for key post on economic panel MORE (D-Md.) said they would subsequently move to subpoena Sondland later Tuesday for testimony and documents.

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Schiff had told reporters Tuesday morning that Sondland also had messages on a personal device that the State Department is withholding from Congress.

“These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents," Schiff, Engel and Cummings said in a joint statement.

“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. We will be issuing a subpoena to Ambassador Sondland for both his testimony and documents,” they said.

The State Department moved to block Sondland's testimony, just hours before he had been set to speak with lawmakers behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. According to the committee chairmen, the State Department left a voicemail at 12:30 a.m. informing Sondland and his counsel of the decision.

Sondland had already flown to Washington from Brussels for the deposition, according to his lawyer, who added that he is ready to testify "on short notice" when he's permitted to appear.

"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," Robert Luskin, Sondland's attorney, said in a statement.

President Trump defended the decision not to allow Sondland to testify.

"I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see," Trump tweeted.

Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerSekulow vows Bidens, Ukraine will be part of Trump impeachment defense GOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial GOP rejects effort to compel documents on delayed Ukraine aid MORE, the former special envoy to Ukraine, testified before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees last week and provided text messages from among himself, Sondland and William Taylor, a top official in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

Sondland is shown in the messages rejecting concerns from Taylor that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE and the business dealings of his son, Hunter, in exchange for financial aid. Sondland is also shown suggesting that the diplomats take their conversations offline.

"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote in a Sept. 9 message.

Sondland replied: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions."

"The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text," Sondland wrote.

The text messages also showed that Sondland was involved in discussions to set up a White House meeting after the Ukrainian president issued a statement announcing an investigation.

"I think [Trump] really wants the deliverable," Sondland wrote.

The complaint filed by the intelligence community whistleblower that spurred the impeachment inquiry further alleges that Sondland attended meetings in Kiev with Volker, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials to discuss on how to "navigate" Trump's demands and the different messages they were receiving from "official U.S. channels on the one hand and from [Trump's personal lawyer Rudy] Giuliani on the other."

The House committees are set to hear testimony on Friday from Marie Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until May, when the Trump administration recalled her from the post. 

Updated at 12:21 p.m.