The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
President Trump tweeted that if he allowed EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland to testify today, it would be in front of a "a totally compromised kangaroo court."
This comes after reports that the White House is blocking Sondland from testifying today in the impeachment inquiry.
What's this all about: A source familiar with discussions inside President Trump’s impeachment team says Ambassador Sondland not appearing is “part of an overall strategy connected to what is viewed as irregularities in the House impeachment inquiry.”
A majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry, according to a new Washington Post-Schar school poll.
The Post reported that 58% of those surveyed said they support the House inquiry, while 38% oppose it.
Meanwhile, 49% said they support the inquiry and removing Trump from office. Another 6% said they support the inquiry but oppose removing Trump.
Here's more context from the Washington Post:
"The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.Those numbers back up other recent polls conducted about impeachment."
A source familiar with discussions inside President Trump’s impeachment team says Ambassador Gordon Sondland not appearing is “part of an overall strategy connected to what is viewed as irregularities in the House impeachment inquiry.”
“The days of playing nice are done,” the source said.
Some context: The contrast with how the White House dealt with Special Counsel Robert Mueller is notable. John Dowd, Trump's former lawyer, once noted Mueller was part of the executive — but Congress is outside and the White House and Trump do not feel an obligation to be as cooperative.
A letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressing White House concerns is expected this afternoon. The letter is “still being massaged,” the source said, but it is expected to indicate the White House strategy moving forward.
Administration officials were in discussions late last night about blocking Ambassador Gordon Sondland from sitting down for his scheduled deposition today, per an official familiar.
The talks centered around how much the White House should be cooperating with requests from House Democrats without a formal impeachment inquiry vote, which the White House has asserted they need for this to be a legitimate probe, though Democrats have said otherwise.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff will speak to reporters at 9:30 a.m. ET about the now-canceled testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland and the impeachment inquiry.
Moments ago, Sondland's lawyer said the State Department ordered the ambassador not to testify today.
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is "profoundly disappointed" he will not testify before Congress today, his lawyer Robert Luskin said in a statement.
Early this morning, the State Department ordered him not to appear.
"Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today," Ruskin said. "Ambassador Sondland hopes that the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly."
Here's the full statement:
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was scheduled to testify before three House committees in a closed-door meeting today — but moments ago, the State Department ordered him not to appear.
Here's what we know about the ambassador:
- His background: Sondland was a Trump donor and hotelier who has been EU ambassador since 2018.
- About the texts: He was cited in text messages turned over to the committee last week by former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker that cut to the heart of the Democrats' impeachment probe. Sondland exchanged messages with Volker and a senior US diplomat in Ukraine about setting up the call between Zelensky and Trump and whether foreign aid was being withheld while Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for Ukraine to open an investigation.
- He is mentioned in the whistleblower complaint: Here's what it said: "On 26 July, a day after the call, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker visited Kyiv and met with President Zelenskyy and a variety of Ukrainian political figures. Ambassador Volker was accompanied in his meetings by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to “navigate” the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy."
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland has been told by the State Department to not appear this morning before the House.
His attorney Robert Luskin said Tuesday morning he has no choice but to comply. “He is a sitting Ambassador and employee of State and is required to follow their direction,” Luskin said.
Luskin said Sondland will not appear.
House Democrats are developing a list of ideas to protect the identity of the whistleblower, who is in the unusual position of having been openly targeted by the President of the United States.
It's still unclear when the whistleblower might ultimately talk with the House Intelligence Committee.
Here's are some of the ideas they're discussing:
- The possibility of using an off-site location, limiting Hill staff and members who would be present and even disguising the individual's image and voice, the sources said.
- Any secure facility, known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), could be used for the meeting, potentially the facilities located at Langley or Fort Meade, secure facilities well outside downtown DC.
- There are also ways to bring the whistleblower up to Capitol Hill without being seen by the press, including what one source described as the "Petraeus treatment" — a reference to the former CIA Director and commander of US Central Command David Petraeus' private testimony from years back. Petraeus testified in 2012 as CIA director about the Benghazi embassy attacks.