Longtime U.S. ambassador arrives to testify about Ukraine before House committees

Clay Curtis
October 11, 2019

The House had scheduled Sondland to testify this past Tuesday, but the State Department made a decision to block the move, before a letter from the Trump administration told the House it won't cooperate with the "unconstitutional" impeachment inquiry.

Sondland is not authorized to release the documents the House committees have sought, they said, adding that Sondland hopes the material will be shared with the committees before his Thursday appearance. Prosecutors said they conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least $1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.

A whistle-blower complaint detailed Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, with Trump asking him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival.

The former US ambassador to Ukraine was removed from her post after insisting that Rudy Giuliani's requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels. Up until the time of her arrival, there was uncertainty about whether the White House or State Department would try to block her testimony.

Yovanovitch is scheduled to speak to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees behind closed doors Friday as part of the impeachment investigation.

Mr. McKinley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sondland was originally scheduled for a deposition this past Tuesday but did not show up.

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The committees subpoenaed Sondland hours later for a deposition next week, and his attorneys said Friday he would testify on October 17, despite the administration's position.

That is what happened earlier this week with another key witness - the White House then formally announced that it would not be co-operating with the impeachment inquiry.

On Thursday, 10 Democratic senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding an explanation for Yovanovitch's removal before the end of her three-year assignment. Schiff is chair of the House's intelligence committee, which is spearheading the probe.

Sondland is of interest to the House impeachment inquiry due to his dealings with former special representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

One of the foreign-born businessmen arrested on Thursday, Parnas, sought the help of a US congressman - identified by a person familiar with the matter as Republican Pete Sessions - to get Trump to remove Yovanovitch, according to the indictment. The director of the Georgetown program, Barbara Bodine, said the former envoy is declining all requests for interviews.

The request, if met by expected White House and State Department opposition, is likely to present a quandary for the longtime diplomat, according to former State Department officials who know him. In a statement quoted by Politico, he said his motivation in urging the removal of Yovanovitch was his belief that "political appointees should not be disparaging the president, especially while serving overseas".

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