Ambassador at heart of Ukraine scandal will testify to Congress against State Department orders

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Gordon Sondland was previously blocked by the administration from appearing before the House committees leading Trump's impeachment inquiry.

The U.S. ambassador at the center of the Ukraine controversy will testify before Congress, despite an earlier State Department order not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Attorneys for Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday that Sondland would appear before the House committees conducting that inquiry, days after a planned closed-door hearing was canceled by State Department officials.

"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," they said in a statement.

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The House committees subpoenaed Sondland this week after he failed to appear at the closed-door hearing, demanding testimony and documents related to Donald Trump's efforts to persuade Ukraine to launch an investigation into his potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden and Biden's son, Hunter.

Specifically, the chairs of those committees told Sondland to turn over any documents he had related to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked Zelensky for a "favor" and pushed him to look into Biden.

A whistleblower complaint about that call, made public last month, claimed White House officials had allegedly rushed to hide a partial transcript of that call in a secret codeword system typically used for highly classified information, which limited access to only a handful of people.

Sondland, a former hotelier and Trump donor, is a key figure in the ongoing Ukraine saga. In September, the House Intelligence Committee released a trove of text messages, provided by former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, between Sondland and fellow diplomat Bill Taylor, the current chargé d'affaires for Ukraine.

The messages showed the two men discussing meetings with Ukrainian officials and attempts to set up a dialogue between Trump and Zelensky.

In one exchange, prior to the July 25 call, Volker and Sondland discuss the need for Zelensky to "say that he will help [the] investigation" — presumably an investigation into Biden — "if there are any."

A few days later, on July 21, Sondland spoke with Taylor, who expressed concerns relayed by a Ukrainian official that Zelensky wanted to be "taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics."

Sondland agreed but reiterated that they needed to "get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext."

On Sept. 1, after Trump canceled a planned meeting with Zelensky in Poland, Taylor texted Sondland, asking whether "security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations."

"Call me," Sondland texted back.

A later exchange on Sept. 9 has specifically raised red flags with the House lawmakers.

In that text conversation, Taylor flagged concerns with Trump's apparent attempt to withhold military aid funds from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Biden.

Trump has denied such a quid pro quo ever existed, claiming he withheld funds because the United States was providing much more aid than other countries.

"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor wrote.

After a gap nearly five hours, Sondland replied,

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 President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.

Sondland then suggested the two "stop the back and forth by text."

According to both the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by NBC News, Sondland reportedly called Trump during that five-hour gap, before replying to Taylor's text message.

It is unclear what the two men discussed during that conversation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.