Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday that he was listening to the conversation when President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for help investigating Trump’s political rivals.
“I was on the phone call,” Pompeo told reporters in Rome, where he is traveling this week.
Asked if the call raised any red flags in his mind, Pompeo did not respond. He said U.S. policy toward the country has consistently been “about helping Ukrainians to get graft and corruption outside of their government and to help now this new government in Ukraine build a successful and thriving economy.”
It’s common practice for diplomats, intelligence officials and others to listen to a call between heads of state. A whistleblower complaint involving Trump’s conversation with Zelensky estimated that a dozen U.S. officials were on the line.
The statement draws Pompeo closer to a political crisis that has threatened Trump’s presidency by sparking impeachment proceedings.
The State Department has already been under close scrutiny. House Democrats are seeking depositions from five current and former officials, and the former U.S. special representative to Ukraine is scheduled to appear Thursday. They’ve also sent a subpoena to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was in contact with U.S. diplomats as he networked with Ukrainian officials.
The State Department’s inspector general is also expected to appear Wednesday on Capitol Hill to provide information to several committees.
The impeachment inquiry centers on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. When Zelensky mentions his desire for military aid, Trump asks for a “favor,” according to a White House account of the call.
Trump wanted Zelensky to look into CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that worked with Democrats during the 2016 campaign, and former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election.
Pompeo had previously suggested he didn’t know details of the discussion during an interview with ABC News on Sept. 22.
“What do you know about those conversations?” asked interviewer Martha Raddatz.
Pompeo dodged the question by saying he hadn’t seen the whistleblower complaint, which was released four days later, that centered on the phone call.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed from Kyiv.