Oct 11, 2019

Scoop: EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland to testify next week

Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland will testify next Wednesday before the House committees investigating President Trump and Ukraine, despite being blocked by the State Department from appearing at a closed-door deposition this week, 4 congressional sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Sondland's lawyer confirmed Friday that the ambassador does plan to testify — "notwithstanding the State Department's current direction not to testify."

Why it matters: One source familiar with the rescheduling tells Axios that after the State Department pulled the plug on Sondland's testimony, Republicans close to Trump encouraged the president to let the ambassador come before the committees. Trump's allies believe Sondland's testimony will be helpful to their side.

  • "Republicans are looking for any silver lining they can get," the source said. "Sondland could be a silver lining. ... He donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural. He's a Trump guy. Whereas [former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie] Yovanovitch is a career person."

The backdrop: Text messages turned over by former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker revealed that Sondland, who was named in the whistleblower complaint that set off the impeachment inquiry, was an intermediary in Trump and Rudy Giuliani's alleged efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

One particularly explosive exchange that Democrats have keyed in on was a text sent to Sondland by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor.

  • "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor texted.
  • Sondland texted back: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind." The New York Times reported that Sondland's response came after he spoke to the president.

After the State Department blocked Sondland's testimony, Trump tweeted that he didn't want the ambassador "testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s [sic] rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public."

  • Sondland was subpoenaed hours later by the committees.
  • Later that day, the White House sent a letter informing House Democratic leaders that the Trump administration will not participate in their impeachment inquiry, condemning it as "constitutionally illegitimate."

The big picture: On Thursday, the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees sent out the following schedule, obtained first by Axios, to committee members and staffers outlining the officials who are expected to testify over the next week, per the congressional sources.

  • Friday: Former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
  • Monday: Trump's former Russia adviser Fiona Hill.
  • Tuesday: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.
  • Wednesday: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
  • Thursday: Counselor of the State Department Ulrich Brechbuhl.

Yes, but: These sources acknowledge that they can't say with 100% certainty that the Trump administration will allow these officials to testify.

  • "We're never sure until the morning of," one of the sources said.
  • But they all said that as of now, the committees are preparing as if each of these individuals are appearing.

Go deeper ... Trump-Ukraine scandal: The key players, dates and documents

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Sondland's attorney that the ambassador does plan to testify before the House committees.

Go deeper

EU ambassador confirms plan to testify before House committees

Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland plans to testify before the House committees investigating President Trump and Ukraine next week, according to a statement issued by his lawyer on Friday.

Why it matters: Axios' Alayna Treene scooped yesterday that Sondland was on the committees' schedule for next Wednesday after previously being blocked from testifying by the Trump administration. Sondland's lawyer also said while he wants to produce documents requested by the committees, that decision is ultimately up to the State Department.

Go deeper: EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland to testify next week

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Sondland "does not recall" Ukraine aid threat, lawyer tells WashPost

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (C) arrives at the Capitol on Oct. 17. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland disputes aspects of congressional testimony by the top American diplomat in Ukraine and he "does not recall" anything about threatening Ukraine over aid, his attorney told the Washington Post Wednesday.

Why it matters: Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified Tuesday that Sondland communicated to Ukrainian officials that President Trump wanted military aid to Ukraine to be conditional on them agreeing to investigate natural gas firm Burisma, for which former Vice President Joe Biden's son worked, and alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election in a quid pro quo, which Trump has long denied.

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As Congress returns from break this week, at least 2 witnesses plan revealing testimonies in off-camera depositions for House investigators.

Driving the news: On Monday, Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on President Trump's National Security Council, plans to testify that Rudy Giuliani and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented normal process "to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine," NBC News reports.

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