The chairmen of the three House committees leading Democrats' impeachment inquiry on Tuesday issued a subpoena to Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the same day the State Department blocked him from testifying.
Sondland, a former hotel executive and major Trump donor, was scheduled to appear for a deposition before the committees Tuesday morning until the State Department moved at the last minute to prevent his testimony.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAll eyes on Garland after Bannon contempt vote House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Manchin heatedly dismisses rumors of leaving Democratic Party MORE (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.) are now demanding that Sondland appear for a deposition on Oct. 16 at 9:30 a.m.
"In light of Secretary Pompeo's direct intervention to block your appearance before our committees, we are left with no choice but to compel your appearance at a deposition pursuant to the enclosed subpoena," Schiff, Engel and Cummings wrote in a letter to Sondland.
“Secretary Pompeo’s obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry does not alleviate you of your independent legal obligation to produce to the Committees any responsive documents in your personal possession, custody, or control,” the chairmen wrote.
“There is no valid basis to withhold documents from the committees by relying on instructions from Secretary Pompeo, who is a fact witness in this inquiry and who is currently defying his own duly issued subpoena for documents — particularly if the Department’s goal is to block the committees from gaining access to your documents prior to your testimony.”
The committee chairmen said earlier Tuesday that they had learned Sondland also had messages on a personal device that the State Department is withholding from Congress. The use of the personal device, they warned, makes it appear that Sondland failed to comply with rules requiring that federal employees use official accounts for government business.
The chairmen said that they have obtained some WhatsApp messages provided by former Ukraine envoy Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails CNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe MORE, who testified before the committees last week, "showing that [Sondland was] directly involved in efforts to press Ukraine to announce publicly that it was pursuing investigations desired by President Donald Trump into the '2016 election' and 'Burisma,'" referring to a Ukrainian energy company in which Hunter Biden served on the board.
The chairmen also said that the WhatsApp messages indicated that Volker spoke directly to President Trump during the time the diplomats were working with the Ukrainian government to issue a public statement announcing the investigations.
"Unlike Ambassador Volker, however, you have refused to produce to the committees these highly relevant documents from your non-official electronic messaging systems," they wrote.
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."
Volker also provided text messages from among himself, Sondland and William Taylor, a top official in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, during his appearance before the House committees last week.
Sondland is shown in the messages rejecting concerns from Taylor that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation into the Bidens in exchange for financial aid.
"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote in a message on Sept. 9.
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.
Sondland is further named in the intelligence community whistleblower repot that spurred the impeachment inquiry. It 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."