By John Wagner / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the Ukraine controversy, bucked the State Department on Friday and announced he would appear before House investigators under subpoena next week.
The State Department blocked Sondland from appearing before three House panels last week as the White House informed Democratic leaders they had no intention of cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. Democrats subsequently issued a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony.
“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,” Sondland’s lawyers said in a statement.
The statement continued: “Ambassador Sondland has at all times acted with integrity and in the interests of the United States. He has no agenda apart from answering the Committees’ questions fully and truthfully.”
Although Sondland now is poised to appear before the panels, he cannot turn over documents requested by investigators, his lawyers said. The lawyers, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley, said that State Department regulations prohibit Sondland from producing documents concerning his official responsibilities and that the department has the “sole authority” to do so.
“Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony,” they said in a statement.
The focus of the impeachment inquiry is President Donald Trump’s efforts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld.
Sondland was one of a handful of U.S. diplomats who facilitated Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian leaders, according to a trove of text messages that former U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker provided to House investigators last week.
On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post in May, was at the Capitol for a scheduled closed-door deposition in front of three House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry.
She did not answer questions from reporters as she entered the building. Up until the time of her arrival, there was uncertainty about whether the White House or State Department would try to block her testimony.
Meanwhile, Trump on Friday prepared to stage his second campaign rally outside of Washington since the impeachment inquiry began. He is scheduled to leave the White House shortly after 4 p.m. and head to Lake Charles, Louisiana.
During a rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, Trump leveled some of his most personal attacks yet against Biden and his family, highlighting unsubstantiated claims about his potential 2020 rival’s son and using profanity to describe Biden’s tenure as vice president.
Joe Biden went on Twitter after the rally, referring to his appearance at a town hall hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and CNN on LGBTQ issues.
“I spent my night at the HRC forum talking about the fundamental respect every human being deserves,” Biden tweeted. “You spent yours showing how little respect for anyone else you have. America is so much stronger than your weakness, realDonaldTrump.”
The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.