The Trump administration continues to engage in a high-stakes confrontation with Congress, on Tuesday blocking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from appearing for a deposition as part of the House impeachment inquiry. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and Trump donor before receiving the EU ambassadorship in 2018, was deeply involved with President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, text messages released last week show.
Despite the fact that Ukraine is not in the EU, Sondland was tasked with steering the Trump administration’s relations with the country. Text messages released as part of the testimony of Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine during the period in question, showed that Sondland helped coordinate the quid pro quo to dig up dirt on Trump’s political rival. In the text messages between Sondland, Volker, and William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, Sondland at one point stressed that Trump “really wants the deliverable”—i.e., the investigation into the Bidens—before a White House meeting was arranged with the new president of Ukraine. Sondland went so far as to draft a statement, along with Volker, for the Ukrainian president announcing the probe. Of particular interest to investigators, Sondland also interacted with Trump directly over the time period around the call currently under being examined.
“Lawmakers heard last week from Volker after he resigned his position and turned over his communications to Congress,” the Washington Post notes. “Sondland remains in his post and has turned over the documents that lawmakers want to the State Department instead, setting up a fight between the legislative and executive branches over access to the information.”
“In making the decision on Tuesday, hours before he was scheduled to sit for a deposition in the basement of the Capitol, the Trump administration appears to be making the calculation that it is better off risking the House’s ire than letting Mr. Sondland show up and set a precedent for cooperation with an inquiry they have strenuously argued is illegitimate,” the New York Times reports. “House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment.”