WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration directed a U.S. ambassador not to appear for a scheduled deposition as part of the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into the president Tuesday.
House Democrats decried it as proof of President Donald Trump's obstruction of Congress.
"The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was scheduled to answer questions Tuesday from three House committees, part of a series of planned depositions this week that is also expected to include Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly ousted in May from her job as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Democratic leaders have warned that attempts by the Trump administration to slow the impeachment inquiry could, in themselves, form grounds for an impeachment charge of obstruction. Schiff said he considers the administration blocking Sondland's testimony "further acts of obstruction of a coequal branch of government."
In a statement, Sondland's lawyer said that his client had been directed by the State Department not to appear, and "as the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the department's direction."
Sondland had agreed to appear voluntarily "in order to answer the committee's questions on an expedited basis," the statement said. "He stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear," the lawyer said.
The chairmen of the committees involved in the impeachment inquiry said Tuesday they will subpoena Sondland to come testify and turn over documents.
In a tweet, Trump said he had blocked Sondland's testimony because the House committees were a "kangaroo court, where Republican's rights have been taken away."
Sondland took part in a series of text messages that were released last week by House Democrats conducting the inquiry into Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to help him win reelection in 2020 by investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.