Democrats subpoena Sondland for testimony, documents

Democrats subpoena Sondland for testimony, documents

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 SchiffSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote MORE (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCongressional investigation finds Coast Guard leadership fell short on handling bullying Trump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list Impeachment can't wait MORE (D-Md.) are now demanding that Sondland appear for a deposition on Oct. 16 at 9:30 a.m.

The subpoena comes after the White House issued a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUSMCA is nice but no model Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties Grassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks MORE (D-Calif.) and the three committee chairmen saying the Trump administration would not comply with the impeachment inquiry, citing the lack of a formal House vote to launch the investigation.
The committee chairmen are also asking that Sondland hand over documents and communications by Oct. 14 related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE's efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications MORE and the business dealings of his son, Hunter, and the withholding of financial aid to Ukraine.

"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 VolkerPush to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary How Democrats' missing witnesses could fill in the Ukraine story 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."