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Ambassador sidesteps State Dept. to testify to Congress for Trump impeachment inquiry

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to the Belgium Ronald Gidwitz and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland listen on as President Donald J. Trump addresses Tri- Mission Brussels during a meet-and-greet in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. (U.S. State Department)
October 11, 2019

House lawmakers have scheduled two top diplomats for the United States for depositions relating to a Democrat-controlled impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland has been called to provide testimony regarding a controversial July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky NBC News reported. Sondland has reportedly accepted the House request despite a State Department effort to block his testimony.

Sondland appeared to accept an Oct. 17 to appear before the house, but said he would not comply with a request to provide additional documents, citing “Federal law and State Department regulations.”

On Tuesday, the State Department blocked Sondland from appearing before the House. At the time of the decision, Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin expressed Sondland’s disappointment and said Sondland “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States.”

Sondland’s involvement in the ongoing impeachment may stem from a Sept 9 text conversation with a U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. In their conversation Taylor expressed misgivings about an apparent decision to stall a Ukrainian military aid package.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted

Sondland himself appeared to push back on Taylor’s assessment of the decision as “incorrect” and reiterated Trump’s intentions that there be “no quid pro quos of any kind.”

Trump appeared to confirm the Tuesday decision that previously blocked Sondland’s testimony.

“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.

The President also reiterated Sondland’s “no quid pro quo” comment to Taylor.

Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, was also called to testify before the house, though she has not yet accepted the request, according to Fox News.

Yovanovitch appears to have been another subject of a controversial July phone call between Trump and Zelensky, for which Democrats have accused Trump of withholding a Ukrainian aid package as a pressure tactic to force Zelensky to investigate allegations Joe Biden forced previous Ukrainian administration officials to fire a prosecutor he disliked.

While Trump did not refer to her directly in the transcript of his call with Zelensky, he did seem to allude to her at several points.

“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump told Zelensky, appearing to refer to Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch was removed from her diplomatic post in May and while some of her colleagues told Fox News she was a “top-notch diplomat,” Trump allies have expressed concerns she harbored anti-Trump biases.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani has accused her of working to undermine Trump’s interests.

In their July phone conversation, Zelensky appeared to agree with Trump’s assessment of Yovanovitch.

“It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%,” Zelensky said during the July phone call. “Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.”