Taking a defiant stance in the impeachment inquiry, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on Tuesday declared that House Democrats were trying to “intimidate, bully and treat improperly” five current and former career officials in seeking information in the Ukraine investigation.
Pompeo said in a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as part of the chamber’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump, that the requested dates for the officials to voluntarily appear for depositions were “not feasible.”
“I am concerned with aspects of your request,” Pompeo wrote to Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the panel. “I will not tolerate such tactics, and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside.”
The muscular response from Pompeo came one day after it was disclosed that he was among those listening in on Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president that helped trigger the impeachment inquiry. The pushback signals a stiffening in the confrontation between the executive and legislative branches over impeachment, and could both slow the probe and expose Trump to charges that he is obstructing Congress.
House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry of Trump after a whistleblower’s disclosure of the president’s phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump sought help in investigating Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.
In halting appearances by State Department officials, and demanding that executive branch lawyers accompany those who do appear, Pompeo is underscoring the administration’s expansive view of the White House’s authority and setting the tone for conflicts to come.
The chairmen of three House committees responded by saying they expected “full compliance” from Pompeo.
In a letter to the secretary, Engel, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) fired back that “any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress” was illegal and could constitute obstruction of justice in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
The committees scheduled depositions this week with Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, and Kurt Volker, the Ukrainian envoy who resigned last week.
Volker played a direct role in arranging meetings between Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, and Zelensky, the chairmen said, as part of what is seen as a back channel to Kyiv.
The Democrats also want to hear from T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, counselor at the State Department, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call, they said.
It’s unclear whether Pompeo will comply with the committees’ request for documents by Friday. He had declined to comply with their previous requests for information.
Pompeo, traveling in Italy to meet with the country’s president and prime minister, ignored a shouted question about the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.