The US State Department has barred the US European Union ambassador from appearing before a House panel conducting the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, his lawyer said.
Lawyer Robert Luskin said his client Gordon Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” that he would not be able to testify.
Mr Luskin did not give a reason, and the State Department had no immediate comment.
A whistleblower’s complaint and text messages released by another envoy portray Mr Sondland as a potentially important witness to allegations that the Republican president sought to dig up dirt on a Democratic rival in the name of foreign policy.
Today, Mr Sondland had been scheduled to face questions about the episode, the second time in as many weeks that politicians would have privately interviewed an ambassador about the president’s push to get Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Until last week, Mr Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, philanthropist and contributor to political campaigns, 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 centred on a July 25 call between Mr Trump and the Ukrainian president.
Text messages released by House Democrats show Mr Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, working with another of Mr Trump’s envoys to get Ukraine to agree to investigate any potential interference in the 2016 US election and also probe the energy company that appointed Mr Biden’s son Hunter to its board.
In exchange, the American officials dangled the offer of a Washington meeting with Mr Trump for Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr Biden or his son.
The messages also show Mr Sondland trying to reassure a third diplomat that their actions were appropriate, but that they should take precautions by limiting their text messages.
“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.”
Like the president who picked him, Mr 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, Mr Sondland is best known in the Pacific Northwest as the founder of the Provenance Hotels chain.