Trump bars en­voy’s tes­ti­mony, es­ca­lat­ing im­peach­ment fight

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - ByMary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­ten­si­fied his fight with Congress Tues­day over the Democrats’ im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as the ad­min­is­tra­tion blocked a U.S. diplo­mat from tes­ti­fy­ing be­hind closed doors about the pres­i­dent’s deal­ings with Ukraine. House com­mit­tee chair­men said they would sub­poena the en­voy to force him to ap­pear.

Gor­don Sond­land, the U. S. Eu­ro­pean Union am­bas­sador, was barred from ap­pear­ing in a closed- door ses­sion with three House pan­els in­ves­ti­gat­ing Trump’s en­treaties to Ukraine. Text mes­sages re­leased last week re­vealed con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Sond­land and two other U.S. diplo­mats who were act­ing as in­ter­me­di­aries as the

pres­i­dent urged Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate po­lit­i­cal ri­val Joe Bi­den’s fam­ily and the 2016 U.S. elec­tion.

House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff said Sond­land’s noshow was “yet ad­di­tional strong ev­i­dence” of ob­struc­tion of Congress by Trump and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo. That will only strengthen the Democrats’ case as they con­duct an im­peach­ment in­quiry and con­sider an even­tual im­peach­ment vote, he said.

“By pre­vent­ing us from hear­ing from this wit­ness and ob­tain­ing these doc­u­ments, the pres­i­dent and sec­re­tary of state are tak­ing ac­tions that pre­vent us from get­ting the facts needed to pro­tect the na­tion’s se­cu­rity,” Schiff said. “For this im­peach­ment in­quiry we are de­ter­mined to find an­swers.”

Sond­land’s ab­sence raised ques­tions about whether other wit­nesses called by the com­mit­tee would ap­pear. Marie Yo­vanovitch, the for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine who was re­called from the post, is sched­uled to tes­tify Fri­day, and the com­mit­tee has called two other State De­part­ment of­fi­cials.

Trump in­di­cated on Tues­day morn­ing that it might have been his own de­ci­sion to block Sond­land’s tes­ti­mony, tweet­ing that he would “love to send Am­bas­sador Sond­land” to tes­tify, “but un­for­tu­nately he would be tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a to­tally com­pro­mised kan­ga­roo court.”

Sond­land’s at­tor­ney, Robert Luskin, said in a state­ment that his client was “pro­foundly dis­ap­pointed” that he wouldn’t be able to tes­tify.

“Am­bas­sador Sond­land trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton from Brus­sels in or­der to pre­pare for his tes­ti­mony and to be avail­able to an­swer the Com­mit­tee’s ques­tions,” Luskin said.

Democrats have strug­gled to in­ves­ti­gate Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion all year as the White House has broadly blocked and ig­nored subpoe­nas for doc­u­ments and wit­ness tes­ti­mony. While the Democrats are al­ready in court to force some of that ev­i­dence, they are mak­ing it in­creas­ingly clear that they do not in­tend to wait much longer. Ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment, in­clud­ing for ob­struc­tion, could be drafted by the end of the year.

Speak­ing to re­porters Tues­day, Schiff laid out four pa­ram­e­ters of the com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion — items that could po­ten­tially be­come ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment.

The panel is prob­ing whether Trump so­licited for­eign help from Ukraine for his 2020 re­elec­tion, whether a never-re­al­ized White House meet­ing be­tween Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy and Trump was con­di­tioned on the coun­try con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, whether U. S. mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to Ukraine was con­di­tioned on those in­ves­ti­ga­tions and whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ob­structed jus­tice.

Top Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally have crit­i­cized Schiff and de­fended the pres­i­dent. Ohio Rep. Jim Jor­dan said Tues­day that “the pres­i­dent was just do­ing his job” to pre­vent cor­rup­tion in Ukraine.

Across the Capi­tol, Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Lind­sey Gra­ham — one of Trump’s friends and staunch­est de­fend­ers — said he would call the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal lawyer, Rudy Giu­liani, to tes­tify about cor­rup­tion in Ukraine. Giu­liani was com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ze­len­skiy about the in­ves­ti­ga­tions that Trump sought.

“Given the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ be­hav­ior, it is time for the Se­nate to in­quire about cor­rup­tion and other im­pro­pri­eties in­volv­ing Ukraine,” Gra­ham said in a tweet. House Democrats are also seek­ing tes­ti­mony from Giu­liani.

Text mes­sages re­leased by House Democrats last week show Sond­land work­ing with an­other of Trump’s diplo­mats, for­mer Ukrainian en­voy Kurt Volker, to get Ukraine to agree to in­ves­ti­gate any po­ten­tial in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion and also to probe the Ukrainian en­ergy com­pany that ap­pointed Bi­den’s son Hunter to its board. In ex­change, the Amer­i­can of­fi­cials dan­gled the of­fer of a Wash­ing­ton meet­ing be­tween Trump and Ze­len­skiy.

There has been no ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing by Bi­den or his son.

Among the most strik­ing mes­sages was one in which Sond­land sought to re­as­sure a third diplo­mat that their ac­tions were ap­pro­pri­ate.

“The Pres­i­dent has been crys­tal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. 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.”

It was re­vealed Tues­day that Sond­land sent that mes­sage af­ter call­ing Trump di­rectly and be­ing told there was no promised trade of fa­vors. Sond­land reached out to Trump be­cause he was con­cerned by the alarms raised by the other am­bas­sador, Wil­liam “Bill” Tay­lor, the charge d’af­faires at the U. S. Em­bassy in Ukraine, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the ex­change. The per­son in­sisted on anonymity to dis­cuss the con­ver­sa­tion.

The mes­sages were sent around the time of a July call be­tween Trump and Ze­len­skiy that was pub­licly re­vealed last month af­ter a whistle­blower sub­mit­ted a com­plaint. In that call, Trump urged that Ze­len­skiy look into cor­rup­tion and the Bi­dens.

Un­til last week, Sond­land was far bet­ter known in his home state of Wash­ing­ton than in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, where he finds him­self em­broiled in an im­peach­ment in­quiry cen­tered on the July 25 call be­tween Trump and the Ukrainian pres­i­dent. But even if not ac­cus­tomed to the global spot­light, the wealthy hote­lier, phi­lan­thropist and con­trib­u­tor to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns has long been com­fort­able around the well- con­nected on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle.

“He very much en­joyed hav­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with those in power,” said David Nieren­berg, a Wash­ing­ton state in­vest­ment ad­viser who has known Sond­land for years. “Some peo­ple col­lect books. Some peo­ple col­lect cars. He col­lected those re­la­tion­ships.”

Like the pres­i­dent who picked him, Sond­land cut an un­con­ven­tional path to be­com­ing a Wash­ing­ton power bro­ker.

The son of Ger­man im­mi­grants who fled the Nazis in the 1930s and later founded their own dry clean­ing busi­ness in Seat­tle, Sond­land is best known in the Pa­cific North­west as the founder of the Prove­nance Ho­tels chain. He and his wife also es­tab­lished a foun­da­tion that’s be­stowed mil­lions of dol­lars on health care and re­gional arts and cul­ture pro­grams.

While Sond­land emerges in the texts as in sync with the pres­i­dent’s wishes, he hasn’t al­ways been sup­port­ive of Trump him­self. He has con­trib­uted over the years to even­tual Trump ad­ver­saries in­clud­ing Mitt Rom­ney and John McCain. In 2015, he do­nated thou­sands of dol­lars to a su­per PAC as­so­ci­ated with Jeb Bush, Trump’s Repub­li­can pri­mary op­po­nent.

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