Key facts and latest news
- At the direction of the State Department, the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland before Congress was canceled hours before he was to testify Tuesday morning. President Trump said he would “love” to send Sondland to testify, but not before what he called a “totally compromised kangaroo court.”
- Democrats are weighing extreme measures to conceal the whistleblower’s identity in a potential interview in part because they fear at least one Republican on the committee might reveal the individual’s identity to the White House.
- The House committees leading the impeachment probe issued subpoenas to the Pentagon and White House budget office, demanding documents about freezing military aid to Ukraine.
- On a July call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Before the call, the president instructed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold off on releasing military aid to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.
- Soon after the July call, White House officials moved a record of the call to a highly classified computer system, severely restricting who could access it.
Washington — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who was scheduled to be interviewed by Congress Tuesday as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, was ordered not to appear for his deposition by the the State Department, according to a statement issued by his attorney. Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and a key witness to the Trump-Ukraine dealings.
Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin said in the statement that Sondland “is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today” and went on to say that the ambassador had traveled from Brussels for the testimony and made arrangements with the Joint Committee staff to appear. Sondland “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States” and remains ready to testify “on short notice,” Luskin said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters on Tuesday that Sondland was in possession of documents on his “personal device” related to Ukraine which the State Department is withholding from the committee.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee is considering “extraordinary moves” to protect the whistleblower’s identity in a still-unscheduled upcoming interview, according to one lawmaker.
“We have to take all precautions, because we cannot burn his or her identity,” Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi told CBS News.
The potential measures — including obscuring the whistleblower’s appearance and voice — were first reported by The Washington Post on Monday.
The measures being considered by the committee are extremely rare. A Senate Intelligence Committee aide said they could not think of a time when its committee had taken such steps to protect an interviewee’s identity. The person said the closest parallel may have been when the chair and vice chair offered to fly to London to interview Christopher Steele, the author of a dossier detailing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia who had legal concerns about traveling to the U.S.
The aide said that the measures “speak to concerns about the ranking member and his intentions.” In other words, Democrats are worried that Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, will share the whistleblower’s identity with the White House.
On the Senate side, “I can’t think of a time when we needed to conceal someone’s identity from the other party,” the aide said.
Nunes relinquished his leadership of the House committee’s Russia probe after he was accused of coordinating with the White House to disclose classified information aimed at embarrassing the previous administration.
The three House committees leading Democrats’ impeachment probe issued new subpoenas to the secretary of defense and acting White House budget director, requesting documents about the decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine over the summer. — Nancy Cordes and Grace Segers
House Democrats say they’ll subpoena Sondland
The three Democratic chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry say they plan to subpoena Sondland, after he declined to appear Tuesday.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings announced their intention to subpoena Sondland for his testimony and documents on Tuesday. “
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” they wrote.
Top House Democrats slam Trump for “obstructing” impeachment inqiury
11:45 a.m. Three top House Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel and Elijah Cummings — slammed the White House’s efforts in blocking U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying in a closed-door session on his knowledge of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
In a joint statement released by the committee chairs, they said the White House’s efforts to block Sondland’s testimony shows their attempts “to impede and obstruct the impeachment inquiry.”
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the direction to not appear came from the State Department, just hours before he was to testify.
“These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President Trump’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents,” the committee chairs said.
Now, Schiff, Engel and Cummings say they will move to issue a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony and any related documents.
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” they added.
Schiff says State Department is withholding documents from Congress
9:39 a.m.: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says that Sondland has texts and documents on his “personal device” relating to Ukraine that the State Department is withholding from Congress. He told reporters that the committee views the government’s refusal to allow Sondland to testify as evidence of obstruction.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider…additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said. “The American people have a right to know if President Trump is working for their interests or in his own political interests.”
However, Republican committee members defended the State Department’s decision to block Sondland’s testimony, complaining that Democrats had treated former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker unfairly during his testimony before the committee last week. They also called for the full transcript of Volker’s testimony before the committee to be released.
Trump confirms that he was involved in decision not to allow Sondland to testify
9:23 a.m. In two tweets on Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump confirmed that he was involved in the decision not to allow Sondland to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public … to see. Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” That says it ALL!” Mr. Trump wrote.
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the Department of State directed him not to appear for his interview before the House Joint Committee. The order came just hours before his scheduled meeting.
CBS News contributor Jonathan Turley noted that Mr. Trump’s stated opposition to Sondland’s testimony before the committee could undermine claims of executive privilege. The president tweeted that he didn’t want him testifying before a “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”
Saying that he doesn’t trust the committee is different that claiming executive privilege, which is based on protecting confidential communications and diplomatic relations. The former, Turley pointed out, is not a ground for refusal if a subpoena were to be issued.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to EU, will not appear before Congress
8:26 a.m. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will not be appearing for his scheduled congressional interview today, after the State Department ordered him not to appear.
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the direction came just hours before he was to testify.
“Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee’s questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,” Sondland attorney, Robert Luskin, said in a statement. He said the ambassador was “profoundly disappointed” that he was not able to testify.
“Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully,” Luskin added.
Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and is considered a key witness in the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
Text messages released last week between Sondland and other U.S. diplomats discussed efforts to get the Ukrainians to draft a statement agreeing on investigations into Burisma, the energy company that hired Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. election. The Ukrainians hoped to secure a White House meeting with President Trump.
But after Politico reported on August 29 that the president had decided to pause U.S. aid for Ukraine, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, wrote, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland replied that Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” saying the president had been “crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
Former senior White House aides: Trump not receiving good advice on Ukraine, Syria
6:57 a.m. CBS News has spoken to several former senior administration aides over the last few days, including former senior White House advisers who have been largely critical of how the White House has been handling recent situations including the Ukraine call, the release of the call’s summary, the impeachment inquiry, and now Syria.
The former senior advisers believe that there is a dearth of advisers in the current White House who have the ability or willingness to dissuade the president from bad political decisions.
“There is no one really left who can say, ‘that’s a bad idea,'” one former senior Trump aide said.
– Fin Gomez, Sara Cook and Weijia Jiang
Trump calls impeachment inquiry a “scam”
Monday, 4:54 p.m.: After signing a pair of trade deals with Japan at the White House, the president took questions from reporters and called the impeachment probe a “scam.”
“The impeachment inquiry is a scam. The conversation that I had with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, was a very good, it was a very cordial conversation,” Mr. Trump said.
He again criticized House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff for paraphrasing his remarks on the call during a congressional hearing last week, calling him a “fraud.” — Stefan Becket
GOP senator says Trump “should not have raised the Biden issue” on Ukraine call
Monday, 4:21 p.m.: Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said the president raising the prospect of investigating the Bidens on the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine was “not appropriate” but said he doesn’t think it rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
“The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent,” Portman said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch published Monday. “I don’t view it as an impeachable offense. I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things.”
The president called Portman “honorable” last week after Portman said he was given a “consistent reason” for the delay in releasing Ukraine aid. — Stefan Becket
Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget subpoenaed
Monday, 12:39 p.m.: The Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have been subpoenaed for documents in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and OMB Acting Director Russell Vought on Monday informing them of the subpoenas.
“Pursuant to the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, we are hereby transmitting a subpoena that compels you to produce the documents set forth in the accompanying schedule by October 15, 2019,” the chairmen wrote in their letter.
The White House was also subpoenaed for documents late Friday.
At least one week before Mr. Trump spoke by phone with the Ukrainian president in late July, he instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold off on releasing nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that had already been appropriated by Congress. A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the Trump administration’s actions regarding the funds previously confirmed to CBS News the delay in military aid.