WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Donald Trump has called “bad news” was due to testify on Friday in the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into the president, while another U.S. envoy agreed to testify next week even as the White House sought to stonewall the investigation.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Louise Yovanovitch is seen during a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Kiev, Ukraine December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who was abruptly recalled from Ukraine in May, is scheduled to give a deposition to congressional investigators probing Trump in a scandal that has cast a pall over his presidency.
The Democratic lawmakers leading the inquiry were waiting to see if Yovanovitch showed up after the White House said earlier in the week it would refuse to cooperate with an inquiry that the Republican president has termed “a kangaroo court”.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will comply with a House subpoena and testify next Thursday before the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, his lawyers said.
But Sondland is not authorized to release the documents the House committees have sought, his lawyers said, adding that he hopes the material will be shared with the committees before his appearance. Sondland was initially scheduled to testify before the House committees on Tuesday, but was blocked by the Trump administration from appearing.
Sondland, a Trump political donor, participated in text messages about Washington’s relationship with Ukraine with other top diplomats. House Democrats received a cache of the texts as part of their impeachment inquiry.
The inquiry was launched after a whistleblower complaint from a person within the U.S. intelligence community about a July 25 phone call, in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter Biden. Biden, the former U.S. vice president, is a leading Democratic contender for the right to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally to dig up dirt on a domestic opponent for his own political benefit. Trump has denied he did anything wrong on the call.
On Thursday, two foreign-born Florida businessmen who had helped Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani investigate Biden were arrested in what prosecutors said was a scheme to illegally funnel foreign money to a pro-Trump election committee and other U.S. political candidates.
The pair, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, were arrested at an airport outside Washington carrying one-way tickets to Vienna. Prosecutors said they conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least $1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.
The two had donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee called America First Action in May 2018, and the money was falsely reported as coming from a purported natural gas company set up to conceal its true source, according to the indictment.
The investigation of Trump could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges – against the president in the House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the U.S. Senate, where the Republicans who control the chamber have shown little appetite for ousting the president.
The testimony from Yovanovitch is the first of several depositions of key figures planned by the House committees spearheading the probe.
Yovanovitch, described by colleagues as a consummate professional, became the target in March of allegations – vehemently denied by the State Department – that she gave a Ukrainian prosecutor a list of people not to prosecute.
Trump allies called for her removal, accusing her of criticizing the president to foreign officials, something current and former colleagues found inconceivable. Giuliani alleged she blocked efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
According to a White House summary, Trump described her as “bad news” to Zelenskiy in the July call in which he sought the Ukrainain leader’s help to investigate the Bidens. “She’s going to go through some things,” Trump added.
One of the foreign-born businessmen arrested on Thursday, Parnas, sought the help of a U.S. congressman – identified by a person familiar with the matter as Republican Pete Sessions – to get Trump to remove Yovanovitch, according to the indictment.
Giuliani told Reuters last week he had provided information to both Trump and the State Department about Yovanovitch, who he suggested was biased against Trump.
Sessions lost his House seat from Texas last year to a Democrat. In a statement quoted by Politico, he said his motivation in urging the removal of Yovanovitch was his belief that “political appointees should not be disparaging the president, especially while serving overseas”.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Will Dunham and John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Gareth Jones