The Democratic chairmen of three House committees said Tuesday they plan to subpoena U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland after the administration of President Donald Trump ordered him not to appear before them for questioning related to the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The committees were scheduled to question Sondland behind close doors beginning Tuesday morning. But Sondland’s attorney said the order from the State Department forced his client to comply with the administration’s command.
“He is a sitting ambassador and employee of State and is required to follow their direction,” attorney Robert Luskin said.
A statement released by the committee chairmen said a subpoena would be issued after the State Department blocked Sondland’s appearance and withheld messages Sondland sent on a personal device that are relevant to the impeachment inquiry.
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” said the statement from intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, foreign affairs committee chairman Eliot Engel and oversight committee chairman Elijah Cummings.
Trump defended the order, tweeting that Sondland would have testified "before a totally compromised Kangaroo court, where Republican rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see.
Trump also noted a Sondland text message that supports his contention he did nothing wrong in his interactions with Ukranian officials that triggered an impeachment inquiry against him.
The scheduled deposition is part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House, which Trump on Monday again rejected as a "scam" perpetrated by Democrats who do not want him to win a second term in office next year.
Sondland has become a prominent figure in the probe because of his efforts to get Ukraine to commit to investigate Trump's potential presidential rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter.
A whistleblower complaint that launched the impeachment inquiry says the day after Trump spoke by telephone with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Sondland and Kurt Volker, U.S. envoy to Ukraine, met with the Ukrainian leader and other political figures.
The whistleblower said that according to readouts of those meetings recounted by U.S. officials, "Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to "navigate" the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelenskiy."
Speaking to reporters Monday at the White House, Trump returned to his repeated defense of the conversation with Zelenskiy as a "perfect call." When asked if he is worried about what might emerge now that a second whistleblower has come forward, Trump replied, "Not at all."
He described the call as "congenial" and said there was "no pressure."
The House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees have been leading the inquiry with depositions and subpoenas seeking documents from members of the Trump administration and the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
They issued fresh subpoenas Monday, demanding Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Office and Budget and Management Acting Director Russell Vought turn over documents by Oct. 15 relating to Trump's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine.
Part of the investigation includes examining whether or not Trump's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine was tied to his request for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens.
No evidence of corruption by the Bidens in Ukraine has been found.