President Donald Trump's administration on Tuesday blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of the Republican president.
According to Sondland's lawyer, Robert Luskin, the ambassador is "profoundly disappointed" he will not testify before Congress today.
He added that "Ambassador Sondland travelled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the Committee's questions".
According to text messages between Sondland and Trump's former envoy to Ukraine, released by House committee leaders last week, the two US diplomats sought to set strict conditions for Zelenskiy meeting Trump at the White House, including Ukraine drafting a statement committing it to carrying out the investigations sought by Trump.
Trump defended the decision not to allow Sondland to testify, writing on Twitter that he would "be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republicans' rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public.to see".
Sondland's attorney released a statement explaining that the State Department had "directed" Sondland to skip his scheduled, voluntary testimony before three congressional committees pursuing an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
The messages came out after a 10-hour interview with one of the diplomats, Kurt Volker, who stepped down as special envoy to Ukraine amid the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
He also said Ukrainian officials had wanted to meet with US leaders to discuss Russian incursions, raising questions about whether such a meeting was "conditioned" on Ukraine's willingness to "play ball" and investigate the Bidens.
Trump is accused of seeking to strong-arm Ukraine into opening an investigation into Trump's political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
"We know from the text messages that Ambassador Sondland was in discussion with Ukrainian counterparts, with fellow diplomatic personnel, and the president, and at least one USA senator, about the course of events we are investigating", Schiff said. He said those communications had been provided to the Department of State, which was withholding them.
Five State Department officials have been asked to sit for depositions with the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees.
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It has been reported the original whistleblower only had second or third-hand information about the phone call. The new whistleblower could potentially blow a hole in the key GOP defense, some observers said .
Some Republicans have cited Sondland's text messages as proof that Trump did nothing wrong.
Sondland was supposed to be the first of two witnesses the committee would speak to this week, along with former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who is still a State Department employee.
The committees say the State Department told Sondland's attorneys he could not testify.
Now they won't get anything - at least, not from Sondland directly.
For only the fourth time in US history, the House of Representatives has started a presidential impeachment inquiry.
In another exchange, Bill Taylor, the senior USA diplomat in Ukraine, questions whether conditions are being attached to United States military aid and a White House invitation for Ukraine's president.
Top Republicans generally have criticized Schiff and defended the president.
The impeachment inquiry has heightened bitter partisan divisions in Congress. Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate while Democrats have a majority in the House.
"As I said on the phone, I think it's insane to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign".
But Gordon Sondland nonetheless donated $1 million to Trump's election effort and ultimately scored a plum post as USA ambassador to the European Union. He was confirmed by the US Senate in June and presented his credentials at the European Commission in July. "The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelenskiy promise during his campaign", he wrote, adding, "I suggest we stop the back and forth by text".