Politics

Pompeo rips Democrats' attempts to 'bully' State Department officials over deposition requests in impeachment inquiry

Key Points
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday pushed back on House Democrats' attempt to depose State Department officials as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
  • "Let me be clear: I will not tolerate such tactics," Pompeo said in a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., which he shared in a tweet.
  • On Friday, leaders from three Democrat-led House committees subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday pushed back on House Democrats' attempt to depose State Department officials as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Pompeo said in a tweet that he is "concerned with aspects" of House committee leaders' requests "that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully, & treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State."

"Let me be clear: I will not tolerate such tactics," Pompeo said in a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., which he shared as part of that tweet.

"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 at the Department of State," Pompeo wrote.

Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was flagged in an explosive whistleblower complaint that was made public last week, along with a five-page memorandum of the call itself. The complaint accuses Trump of "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election" when he asked Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Monday evening that Pompeo was on that phone call between the two world leaders. Pompeo had not previously acknowledged having any involvement in the call. NBC News confirmed the Journal's report. Pompeo himself said during a Wednesday morning press conference in Italy that he was on the call.

On Friday, leaders from three Democrat-led House committees subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to the impeachment inquiry into Trump, which was formally announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., earlier in the week.

The panels also told Pompeo that they had scheduled depositions over the next two weeks with five State Department officials. Pompeo said this timeline is "not feasible" in his letter.

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Engel, along with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote that they sought a slew of records as part of their probe into "the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression."

Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was flagged in an explosive whistleblower complaint that was made public last week, along with a five-page memorandum of the call itself. The complaint accuses Trump of "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election" when he asked Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Monday evening that Pompeo was on that phone call between the two world leaders. Pompeo had not previously acknowledged having any involvement in the call. NBC News confirmed the Journal's report. Pompeo himself said during a Wednesday morning press conference in Italy that he was on the call.

Engel, Schiff and Cummings responded to Pompeo's letter with a joint statement Tuesday afternoon, asserting that if the reports of his involvement in the call are true, then Pompeo "is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry."

"He should immediately cease intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President," they wrote. "Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress — including State Department employees — is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry."

The committee leaders laid out a deposition schedule for five current and former State Department officials: former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

Pompeo, in his letter to Engel made public Tuesday morning, said he has been "made aware that Committee staff has been sending intimidating communications to career Department professionals, who have specifically asked for Committee communications to be channeled through the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, as is customary."

Pompeo questioned whether the Democrats had the legal authority to compel the depositions. "The Committee has not issued any subpoenas for depositions, and we are not aware of any other authority by which the committee could compel appearance at a deposition," Pompeo wrote.

He also complained that the committees provided a "woefully inadequate opportunity" for the five officials to prepare for the depositions. They need more time to retain lawyers and consult with them, Pompeo said.

Pompeo claimed that the officials would not be allowed to attend a deposition without Executive Branch counsel present. And the additional request for the officials to produce records that are "property of the State Department" constitutes "an act of intimidation and an invitation to violate federal records laws," he wrote.

Engel, Cummings and Schiff wrote in their Friday letter that "the failure of any of these Department employees to appear for their scheduled depositions shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry."

Pompeo shot back: "There is no legal basis for such a threat ... I urge you to exercise restraint in making such unfounded statements in the future."

In a statement released by the Oversight Committee's Republican minority, ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, accused Democrats of "choosing confrontation over cooperation and exploiting their power solely to attack this president and undo the results of the 2016 election."