Trump's EU ambassador to testify after Democrats' subpoena

A key witness in House Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry will testify next week despite the State Department's objection.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will testify before the House on Thursday in compliance with a congressional subpoena, according to his counsel.

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"Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday," according to a statement from Sondland's attorneys, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley.

Sondland had been set to testify earlier this week, but his appearance was abruptly blocked by the State Department. The White House the same day said it would no longer cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland’s attorneys said that he does not have the power to share documents related to his official responsibilities sought by the committees because they are the property of the federal government and that it will be up to the State Department to do so.

“Ambassador Sondland does not control the disposition of his documents. By federal law and regulation, the State Department has sole authority to produce such documents, and Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony,” his attorneys said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat Hillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections Democrats drop controversial surveillance amendment MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters earlier this week that the State Department was withholding text messages or emails stored on Sondland’s personal device that Democrats believe to be relevant to the impeachment inquiry

Neither the White House nor the State Department immediately responded to requests for comment on the decision by Sondland to testify.

Sondland, a wealthy hotel magnate who donated $1 million to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE’s inaugural committee before being tapped as the U.S. ambassador to the EU, is viewed as a key witness for House Democrats as they investigate Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. He is mentioned in the whistleblower complaint that raised alarm over Trump’s effort to press Ukraine for an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenLifting our voices — and votes Longtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick Biden will help close out Texas Democrats' virtual convention: report MORE.

Text messages released by the committees last week also showed Sondland speaking to other officials, conversations that suggested a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky would be contingent on Ukraine launching investigations into 2016 election interference and a Ukrainian energy company with ties to Biden’s son Hunter.

Sondland is viewed as an ally to Trump in the investigation. The president has specifically pointed to one text message exchange in which Sondland emphasized Trump had been “crystal clear” about there being “no quid pro quo’s” after another official, Bill Taylor, raised concerns the administration was withholding security aid to Ukraine “for help with a political campaign.”

Democrats are currently investigating whether Trump had held up assistance to Ukraine, which has since been released, in order to press for politically-motivated investigations. Trump and others in his administration have denied there was any quid pro quo and maintained that Trump’s conversation with Zelensky was not improper and has nothing to do with the 2020 presidential election.

The State Department directed Sondland not to appear for scheduled testimony on Tuesday. Trump wrote on Twitter that he would “love” for Sondland to testify but that he didn’t trust Democrats’ “kangaroo court.”

Later that day, the White House sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Pelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat MORE (D-Calif.) and the heads of three congressional committees Tuesday evening stating that the executive branch would not comply with House Democrats’ “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry, accusing the Democrats of engaging in an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone took issue with a number of facts of the Democrats’ investigation, including Pelosi’s decision not to hold a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry on the House floor — as has been past precedent. Cipollone also accused Democrats of denying Trump due process. 

“In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances,” Cipollone wrote.

Democrats have accused the White House of trying to obstruct their inquiry and warned that a refusal to allow access to witnesses or documents would be viewed as evidence of obstruction of Congress. 

Alicia Cohn contributed.