The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland has been told by the State Department to not appear this morning before the House.
His attorney Robert Luskin said Tuesday morning he has no choice but to comply. “He is a sitting Ambassador and employee of State and is required to follow their direction,” Luskin said.
Luskin said Sondland will not appear.
House Democrats are developing a list of ideas to protect the identity of the whistleblower, who is in the unusual position of having been openly targeted by the President of the United States.
It's still unclear when the whistleblower might ultimately talk with the House Intelligence Committee.
Here's are some of the ideas they're discussing:
- The possibility of using an off-site location, limiting Hill staff and members who would be present and even disguising the individual's image and voice, the sources said.
- Any secure facility, known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), could be used for the meeting, potentially the facilities located at Langley or Fort Meade, secure facilities well outside downtown DC.
- There are also ways to bring the whistleblower up to Capitol Hill without being seen by the press, including what one source described as the "Petraeus treatment" — a reference to the former CIA Director and commander of US Central Command David Petraeus' private testimony from years back. Petraeus testified in 2012 as CIA director about the Benghazi embassy attacks.
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will be on the hot seat today when House investigators press him about text messages he exchanged related to President Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the freezing of foreign aid to Ukraine.
Sondland is appearing behind closed doors before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees as part of the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
Here's what you need to know about him and his testimony today:
- His background: Sondland was a Trump donor and hotelier who has been EU ambassador since 2018.
- About the texts: Sondland exchanged messages with Volker and a senior US diplomat in Ukraine about setting up the call between Zelensky and Trump and whether foreign aid was being withheld while Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for Ukraine to open an investigation.
- GOP thinking: Republicans may also find Sondland as a fruitful witness, as he pushed back in the text messages on the notion that the aid was connected to investigations.
The main question, as Democrats move toward impeachment in the House, is whether the Republican-controlled Senate will close ranks around President Donald Trump -- or not.
CNN has contacted more than 80 offices for Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate in recent days to ask for a response to Trump's remarkable public call for foreign governments to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Only a few responded; just a handful have expressed any misgivings to CNN or other outlets.
Why the silence? Trump holds powerful sway over congressional Republicans, largely because he is wildly popular with the same Republican voters who will decide whether to reelect these lawmakers. Most who defy Trump end up out of office, about the last place any politician wants to be.
Three key allies of Giuliani and two State Department officials likely won't testify this week before the impeachment inquiry. The committee has threatened subpoenas for Giuliani's associates.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Giuliani
Why they're important:
- They are Florida-based but were reportedly born in the then-Soviet Union
- They gave hundreds of thousands in donations to a Trump-allied super PAC, according to the Miami Herald.
- They have retained Trump's personal attorney John Dowd
- They missed a deadline to submit documents
- Parnas and Fruman are pursuing business opportunities for natural gas in Ukraine, according to an Associated Press investigation.
- They've pushed for investigations of Burisma, the natural gas company that employed Hunter Biden
- Parnas was Giuliani's fixer in Ukraine, introducing him to current and former officials as far back as 2018, according to CNN's reporting
Semyon "Sam" Kislin
Why he's important:
- His website says he was on Giuliani's Council of Economic Advisers
- House committees ask him to provide documents from after January 20, 2017
- A letter asked him to turn over documents by today and be deposed next week
Ulrich Brechbuhl, Counselor of the State Department
- West Point classmate, business partner and now key aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- Listed in the whistleblower complaint as a person who was possibly listening to July 25 Trump call with Ukrainian President Zelensky
- State has denied Brechbuhl was on the call. Turns out Pompeo was actually on the call
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent
Why he's important:
- Oversees US policy on Ukraine at the State Department
- Was a top official at the US embassy in Kiev until 2018
- Not mentioned in the whistleblower report
House investigators had hoped for multiple depositions this week, but they may only get two (all behind closed doors).
US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland appears on Tuesday
Why he's important:
- Key player in the nexus between Giuliani, Trump and the new Ukraine administration.
- His defense of President Trump's intentions featured prominently in text messages released by House committees last week.
Former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday
Why she's important:
- Was recalled to the US before Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Trump called her "bad news."
- The former prosecutor in Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, said she pressured him to stay out of US politics.
- The Wall Street Journal reported Trump recalled her after complaints from Giuliani.
The Democrats' impeachment investigation is grinding relentlessly onward. On Tuesday, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is due to give a closed-door deposition and will become the latest official or witness to the President's dealings with Ukraine to tell his story.
New Democratic subpoenas are flying across Washington with demands for documents on Ukraine hitting the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget. Democrats also warned that if associates of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani deny requests for documents and depositions they will be compelled to comply.
The President complained on Monday that the Democratic investigation was making it impossible to do his job. But his belligerence and unrestrained conduct in reality is making it hard for Congress to fulfil its constitutional role.
The House Intelligence Committee is discussing extraordinary measures to protect the identity of the whistleblower who set off the impeachment circus by accusing Trump of pressuring Ukraine's President to investigate Biden in a call.
Among possible measures are the use of an off-site location for any testimony — potentially including highly secure sites at the CIA or at Fort Meade base outside Washington, the home of US Cyber Command.
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is expected to testify today before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.
About Sondland: The ambassador is mentioned in a series of text messages between US diplomats and a Ukrainian aide. The messages, which were released last week, show how a potential Ukrainian investigation into the 2016 election was linked to a desired meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Trump.
In one exchange, Sondland seemed to downplay the concerns raised by his counterpart in Kiev.
"Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk's point that President Zelenskyy is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics," Ambassador William "Bill" Taylor, the charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Kiev, wrote on July 21.
Sondland replied, "Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext."
Here are some of the latest developments in the impeachment inquiry into Trump:
- A meeting behind closed doors: US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is expected to testify before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Tuesday.
- Rick Perry: The Energy Secretary said he "absolutely" asked Trump "multiple times" to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but about energy — not former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Perry's spokesperson also confirmed that he was not on Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
- Inquiry continues: The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry had initially scheduled four depositions this week with State Department officials, but only two are confirmed, and the committees are still negotiating with the other witnesses they are seeking, according to a committee source.
- More subpoenas: The Democratic chairmen of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees subpoenaed the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget for documents on the decision to withhold military assistance to Ukraine. They are demanding the agencies turn over documents by Oct. 15.
- Whistleblower protection: The House Intelligence Committee and lawyers for the whistleblower who filed a complaint about Trump's conduct are discussing extreme measures to protect the individual's identity amid growing concerns about his or her safety, according to several sources familiar with the process. Among the measures being discussed are the possibility of using an off-site location, limiting Hill staff and members who would be present and even disguising the individual's image and voice, the sources said.