Published On: Tue, Oct 8th, 2019

Impeachment inquiry latest: Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to E.U., blocked from testifying to Congress by Trump administration – live updats


CBSN


Key facts and latest news

  • The testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland before Congress was canceled hours before he was to testify Tuesday morning, at the direction of the State Department. President Trump said he would “love” to send Sondland to testify, but not before what he called a “totally compromised kangaroo court.”
  • Democrats are weighing steps they can take to conceal the whistleblower’s identity in a potential interview.
  • The House committees leading the impeachment probe issued subpoenas to the Pentagon and White House budget office, demanding documents about freezing military aid to Ukraine.
  • U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was ordered by the State Department to not appear before Congress for a closed-door meeting as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and a key witness to the Trump-Ukraine dealings.
  • On a July call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Before the call, the president instructed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold off on releasing military aid to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.
  • Soon after the July call, White House officials moved a record of the call to a highly classified computer system, severely restricting who could access it.

Washington — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will be skipping his appearance on Capitol Hill after being deposed for a closed-door meeting as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, at the direction of the State Department. Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and a key witness to the Trump-Ukraine dealings.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters on Tuesday that Sondland was in possession of documents on his “personal device” related to Ukraine which the State Department is withholding from the committee.

“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee is considering “extraordinary moves” to protect the whistleblower’s identity in a still-unscheduled upcoming interview, according to one lawmaker.

“We have to take all precautions, because we cannot burn his or her identity,” Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi told CBS News.

The potential measures — including obscuring the whistleblower’s appearance and voice — were first reported by The Washington Post on Monday.

The measures the committee is considering are extremely rare. A Senate Intelligence Committee aide said they could not think of a time when their committee has taken such steps to protect an interviewee’s identity. The person said the closest parallel they could think of was when the chair and vice chair offered to fly to London to interview Christopher Steele, the author of a dossier detailing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia who had legal concerns about traveling to the U.S.

The measures the House committee is considering, this aide said, “speak to concerns about the ranking member and his intentions.” In other words, Democrats are worried that Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, will share the whistleblower’s identity with the White House.

On the Senate side, “I can’t think of a time when we needed to conceal someone’s identity from the other party,” the aide said.

Nunes relinquished his leadership of the House committee’s Russia probe after he was accused of coordinating with the White House to disclose classified information aimed at embarrassing the previous administration.

The three House committees leading Democrats’ impeachment probe issued new subpoenas to the secretary of defense and acting White House budget director, requesting documents about the decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine over the summer. — Nancy Cordes and Grace Segers

Schiff says State Department is withholding documents from Congress

9:39 a.m.: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that Sondland was in possession of texts and documents on his “personal device” relating to Ukraine which the State Department is withholding from Congress. Schiff also said that the committee would consider the refusal to allow Sondland to testify as evidence of obstruction of the congressional inquiry.

“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said. “The American people have a right to know if President Trump is working for their interests or in his own political interests.”

However, Republican committee members argued that the State Department decided to block Sondland from testifying due to Democrats’ treatment of former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker during his testimony before the committee last week. They also called for the full transcript of Volker’s testimony before the committee to be released.

Trump confirms that he was involved in decision not to allow Sondland to testify

9:23 a.m. In two tweets on Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump confirmed that he was involved in the decision not to allow Sondland to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

“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. Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” That says it ALL!” Mr. Trump wrote.

According to a statement from Sondland’s attorney, the ambassador was directed by the Department of State not to appear for his interview before the House. The order came just hours before his scheduled meeting.

CBS News contributor Jonathan Turley said that Mr. Trump’s opposition to Sondland testifying before the committee undermined claims of executive privilege. Mr. Trump said that Sondland was barred from testifying because it would be in front of a “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”

As executive privilege is based on protecting confidential communications and diplomatic relations, and Mr. Trump seems to be saying is that he simply does not trust the Committee, this is not a ground for refusal if a subpoena is now issued.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to EU, will not appear before Congress

8:26 a.m. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will be skipping his appearance on Captiol Hill after being deposed for a closed-door meeting as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, according to Congressional sources. Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and a key witness to the Trump-Ukraine dealings.

According to a statement from Sondland’s attorney, the ambassador was directed by the Department of State not to appear for his interview before the House. The order came just hours before his scheduled meeting.

“Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee’s questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,” Sondland attorney, Robert Luskin, said in a statement. He said the ambassador was “profoundly disappointed” that he was not able to testify.

“Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully,” Luskin added.

Texts released last week between Sondland and other U.S. diplomats discussed efforts to get the Ukrainians to draft a statement agreeing on investigations into Burisma, the energy company that hired Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. election. A White House meeting was dangled in front of the Ukrainians.

In one text, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, wrote, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Sondland replied that Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” saying the president had been “crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

Former Senior White House Aides: Trump not getting good advice on Ukraine, Syria

6:57 a.m. CBS spoke to several former senior administration aides over the last few days including former senior White House advisers who have been mostly critical of how the White House has handled recent situations including the Ukraine call, the release of the call summary, the impeachment inquiry, and now Syria.

The former senior advisers believe that there is a dearth of advisers in the current White House who have the ability or willingness to dissuade the president from bad political decisions.

“There is no one really left who can say, ‘that’s a bad idea,'” one former senior Trump aide said.

CBS also spoke to current senior administration officials who expressed frustration over the release of the Ukraine call summary/transcript.

– Fin Gomez, Sara Cook and Weijia Jiang

​Trump calls impeachment inquiry a “scam”

Trump
President Trump speaks after a signing ceremony for a trade agreement with Japan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, October 7, 2019, in Washington.

Evan Vucci / AP


Monday, 4:54 p.m.: After signing a pair of trade deals with Japan at the White House, the president took questions from reporters and called the impeachment probe a “scam.”

“The impeachment inquiry is a scam. The conversation that I had with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, was a very good, it was a very cordial conversation,” Mr. Trump said.

He again criticized House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff for paraphrasing his remarks on the call during a congressional hearing last week, calling him a “fraud.” — Stefan Becket

​GOP senator says Trump “should not have raised the Biden issue” on Ukraine call

US-NKOREA-STUDENT
Senator Rob Portman speaks to reporters outside Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, on June 22, 2017.

Afp Contributor / AFP/Getty Images


Monday, 4:21 p.m.: Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said the president raising the prospect of investigating the Bidens on the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine was “not appropriate” but said he doesn’t think it rises to the level of an impeachable offense.

“The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent,” Portman said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch published Monday. “I don’t view it as an impeachable offense. I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things.”

The president called Portman “honorable” last week after Portman said he was given a “consistent reason” for the delay in releasing Ukraine aid. — Stefan Becket

Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget subpoenaed

Monday, 12:39 p.m.: The Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have been subpoenaed for documents in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and OMB Acting Director Russell Vought on Monday informing them of the subpoenas.

“Pursuant to the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, we are hereby transmitting a subpoena that compels you to produce the documents set forth in the accompanying schedule by October 15, 2019,” the chairmen wrote in their letter.

The White House was also subpoenaed for documents late Friday.

At least one week before Mr. Trump spoke by phone with the Ukrainian president in late July, he instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold off on releasing nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that had already been appropriated by Congress. A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the Trump administration’s actions regarding the funds previously confirmed to CBS News the delay in military aid.





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