The Trump Administration ordered a top U.S. diplomat not to appear for a deposition with investigators as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a pivotal witness in the Trump-Ukraine scandal, was reportedly directed to abstain from appearing just hours before his interview was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. While Sondland’s attorney said his client was “profoundly disappointed” he could not testify, legal commentators promptly agreed that the White House’s move amounted to obstructing the impeachment inquiry.
Eric Columbus, former senior counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and former special counsel to the general counsel in the Department of Homeland Security during the President Barack Obama presidency, said the move showed that the administration had something to hide. He called President Trump’s “last-minute order” to block Sondland’s testimony “pure unadulterated bullshit.” He also said the move was “evidence that [the White House] fear[s] what he’d say,” and could become “a component of a possible separate impeachment count for obstructing Congress.” Why?
Former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said blocking Sondland’s testimony marked “new levels of obstructionism” for the administration, which he suggested the House should use to its advantage in its impeachment inquiry.
“Schiff needs to play hardball,” Honig tweeted. “This guy doesn’t want to appear, fine. Congress has his texts and they’re damning and incriminating. Take them at face value and use them to support impeachment of Trump and potential criminal charge vs. Sondland.”
Regular Trump critic, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, declared that this was “impeachable obstruction of Congress.”
Attorney Susan Hennessey, the Executive Editor of Lawfare, surmised that preventing Sondland from testifying was a strategic maneuver by the White House.
“I presume the calculation is that congressional Republicans are more likely to stick with Trump over stonewalling Congress than after they hear whatever Sondland would say under oath,” she tweeted.
A characteristically sarcastic George Conway, husband to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, was unsurprised by the news that Sondland would not be testifying, tweeting: “But we were all so looking forward to his testimony about the world’s most perfect presidential phone call. Gosh, why would anyone not want that to come out?”
Former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti urged House Democrats not get bogged down on the administration obstructing the process.
“More stonewalling from the Trump Administration,” Mariotti tweeted. “This wouldn’t hold up in court, but the point is to waste time by forcing the House to go to court. House Democrats should just push forward without his testimony instead of letting this move slow them down.
President Trump’s least favorite congressman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), repeated the line that the blocking of Sondland’s testimony was “strong evidence of obstruction.”
Democratic lawmakers have warned on a few occasions now that any efforts to avoid cooperating with their demands will be viewed as obstruction. Now they are stating outright that the president “personally ordered the obstruction of a lawful Congressional inquiry.”
President Trump claimed that he would have loved to let Sondland testify, but it just wasn’t possible because Republicans don’t have any rights in a “totally compromised kangaroo court.”
[Image via LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images]
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