WASHINGTON – U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the Ukraine controversy, bucked the State Department on Friday and announced he would appear before House investigators under subpoena next week.
The State Department had blocked Sondland from appearing before three House panels last week as the White House informed Democratic leaders they had no intention of cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. Democrats subsequently issued a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony.
“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,” Sondland’s lawyers said in a statement.
The statement continued: “Ambassador Sondland has at all times acted with integrity and in the interests of the United States. He has no agenda apart from answering the Committees’ questions fully and truthfully.”
Although Sondland now is poised to appear before the panels, he cannot turn over documents requested by investigators, his lawyers said. The lawyers, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley, said that State Department regulations prohibit Sondland from producing documents concerning his official responsibilities and that the department has the “sole authority” to do so.
“Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony,” they said in a statement.
The focus of the impeachment inquiry is President Donald Trump’s efforts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld.
Sondland was one of a handful of U.S. diplomats who facilitated Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian leaders, according to a trove of text messages that former U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker provided to House investigators last week.
On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post in May, testified in a closed-door hearing in front of three House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry. In opening remarks, she said her departure came as a direct result of pressure that Trump placed on the State Department to remove her.
Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she was forced to leave Kiev on “the next plane” in the spring and subsequently removed from her post. She said a State Department official told her that she had done nothing wrong, but that the State Department had been under significant pressure to remove her since the summer of 2018.
In explaining her departure, she acknowledged months of criticisms by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who had accused her of privately badmouthing the president and seeking to protect the interests of Biden and his son who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Yovanovitch denied those allegations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed Friday that Trump “well be held accountable” as the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry moved forward with closed-door testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
In a letter to House Democrats ahead of a planned conference call Friday, Pelosi touted “increased outside validation of our efforts” and thanked colleagues for their “seriousness of purpose” during the impeachment inquiry.
“The President’s actions threaten our national security, violate our Constitution and undermine the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi wrote to fellow Democrats. “No one is above the law. The President will be held accountable.”
In late-morning tweets and retweets Friday, Trump taunted “Do Nothing Democrats” and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. The president is scheduled to be in Louisiana later Friday for his second campaign rally outside of Washington since the impeachment inquiry began.
During a rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, Trump leveled some of his most personal attacks yet against Biden and his family, highlighting unsubstantiated claims about his potential 2020 rival’s son and using profanity to describe Biden’s tenure as vice president.
Joe Biden went on Twitter after the rally, referring to his appearance at a town hall hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and CNN on LGBTQ issues.
“I spent my night at the HRC forum talking about the fundamental respect every human being deserves,” Biden tweeted. “You spent yours showing how little respect for anyone else you have. America is so much stronger than your weakness, @realDonaldTrump.”
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The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.
Video: President Trump slammed the ‘insane impeachment witch hunt’ on Oct. 11 during his first campaign rally since the start of the impeachment inquiry.(Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)