Wednesday 16 October 2019

US bans its EU ambassador from probe into Ukraine call

Accusation: Mr Trump described the inquiry as a ‘kangaroo court’. Photo: REUTERS
Accusation: Mr Trump described the inquiry as a ‘kangaroo court’. Photo: REUTERS

Rozina Sabur in Washington

The Trump administration blocked a key witness in the Ukraine scandal from testifying to the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation yesterday, leading Democrats to accuse the president of stonewalling.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, had been expected to answer questions on his role in Donald Trump's attempt to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his political rival.

But less than two hours before he was scheduled to appear, it emerged the US State Department had blocked him from testifying.

Leading Democrats condemned the action and said they would subpoena Mr Sondland, as well as "highly relevant" emails and text messages from the ambassador.

Mr Trump said he "would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify", but accused the impeachment inquiry of being "a totally compromised kangaroo court".

Last night, the White House declared it would not co-­operate with what it termed the "illegitimate" impeachment probe, setting up a constitutional clash between Mr Trump and Congress.

Lawyers for Mr Trump sent a letter to House leaders bluntly stating their refusal to take part in the quickly moving impeachment investigation.

The probe was sparked by a whistleblower's complaint alleging the US president had pushed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Mr Biden, the leading Democrat in the 2020 presidential race.

As part of that inquiry, the House Intelligence Committee released a trove of text messages last week that revealed Mr Sondland played a central role in advancing Mr Trump's agenda in Ukraine.

However, with $400m (€365m) of US military aid to Ukraine held back as talks continued, one official, William Taylor, raised concerns. In one text, Mr Taylor, the charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Ukraine, said: "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Mr Sondland replies that he is wrong about the president's "intentions", saying there is no "quid pro quo". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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