WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump blindsided key Republican allies on Tuesday when the White House blocked a diplomat's testimony in the House impeachment probe, and the lawmakers later asked the president to make sure it doesn't happen again, according to people familiar with the matter.
Frustrated that they didn't get a heads-up that Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, would be prevented from appearing on Tuesday, a handful of GOP lawmakers went to the White House to discuss the issue with Trump and senior advisers, one of the people said.
In response, White House officials agreed to improve communication of their impeachment strategy with allies who are on the front lines, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private conversations between Trump and the lawmakers.
The impromptu huddle highlights the risks of Trump's vigorous but improvised self-defense against the impeachment inquiry Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced two weeks ago. While many Republicans, especially in the House, are anxious to defend the president, they could step into political danger if they're caught off guard by Trump's actions.
Among the lawmakers identified as meeting with Trump on Tuesday were Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lee Zeldin of New York and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. Before heading to the White House, the group spoke with reporters outside the congressional offices where Sondland was supposed to testify.
Those Republican lawmakers, like their Democratic counterparts, had been awaiting Sondland's arrival Tuesday morning at the Capitol for a deposition before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees.
But less than an hour before the testimony was to begin, Robert Luskin, the attorney representing the ambassador, informed the committees that the State Department instructed his client not to appear. Republicans got that information from news reports.
Jordan, who is the senior Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, expressed regret that the panels wouldn't hear from Sondland on Tuesday. But he said he understands why the State Department blocked the deposition "based on the unfair and partisan process" he said Democrats are running.
"Look, we were actually looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland," Jordan said. "We thought he was going to reinforce what Ambassador Volker told us last week," that there was no quid pro quo for the Trump administration's demands of the Ukrainian government.
Sondland, a hotel executive who donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, came under increased scrutiny last week after Volker turned over text messages in his closed deposition, which showed Sondland seeking to encourage Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.