WASHINGTON - The Trump administration has ordered the U.S. ambassador to the European Union not to appear at a scheduled deposition Tuesday on the Ukraine controversy, according to his lawyer -- a move likely to significantly escalate tensions between House Democrats and the White House.
The move to block Gordon Sondland, first reported by The New York Times, is likely to infuriate Democrats who have indicated they will see any such move as an obstruction of its investigation into the controversy surrounding Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
An attorney for Sondland said the order not to appear came from the State Department. Attorney Robert Luskin said Sondland, who had previously agreed to appear voluntarily for a closed session, is required to follow the department's direction. No reason for the direction was cited, he said.
Luskin said Sondland "is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify." His statement said: "Ambassador Sondland hopes that the issues raised by the State Department that preclude his testimony will be resolved promptly. He stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear."
Fox News is told, however, that while Sondland is not showing up "for now," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., plans to draft a subpoena to try to secure his testimony later in the day.
In the July phone call in question, which was flagged as part of a whistleblower complaint, Trump urged Zelensky to look into possible interference by Ukraine in the 2016 election as well as former Vice President Joe Biden’s and his son Hunter’s conduct in the country.
Democrats claim that Trump used $400 million in military aid as leverage in a quid pro quo for the Ukrainians to investigate a political opponent and have opened an impeachment inquiry, firing off a raft of subpoenas within a few days to top administration and White House officials. Trump denies those claims.