Shared from the 10/2/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Pompeo, Dems trade intimidation claims

Secretary of state says 5 officials will not be at depositions

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

A secure facility used by the House Intelligence Committee is seen in the Capitol as House Democrats prepare for depositions in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON — House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused each other Tuesday of trying to intimidate State Department officials called as witnesses in the probe.

Chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees said any attempt by Pompeo to prevent Department officials from speaking to them “is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction,” according to a statement issued by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who heads the foreign affairs panel.

The Democrats’ statement came after Pompeo informed them hours earlier that five State Department officials called to give depositions in the inquiry into President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine over the next two weeks would not appear as scheduled this week.

But at least two of the five planned to appear anyway before the House intelligence panel, according to a committee official who said Kurt Volker, the administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, would be deposed as scheduled on Thursday. The questioning will take place behind closed doors, and there has been no word on whether a transcript would be released.

Volker, who resigned from his part-time, unpaid position last week, “has confirmed he will appear,” the official said. Volker did not respond to a request for comment.

A second State Department official, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was due to appear Wednesday “will now be appearing on Oct. 11 with the agreement of both the Committees and counsel,” the committee official said.

It was unclear whether Pompeo had approved the appearances, or whether the “counsel” who would accompany Yovanovitch was her personal lawyer or a State Department legal representative. Yovanovitch was recalled by Pompeo as ambassador to Ukraine in May, before the end of her tour.

In his letter to the chairman, Pompeo characterized the effort to depose the officials as “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.”

The charge followed reports that Pompeo was a participant in the July 25 call by Trump to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a conversation that led to the impeachment investigation. The inquiry centers on a whistle-blower complaint, released last week, alleging that Trump manipulated U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain, withholding aid to Ukraine while pressing for an investigation of Ukraine-related activities of Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden and his son.

Until Tuesday, Pompeo had brushed off questions about the incident, saying late last week that he had not read the whistleblower complaint.

Other State Department officials scheduled to meet with the committees include Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl.

Pompeo’s Tuesday letter chastising the committees said he would “not tolerate such tactics.”

The committees, Pompeo said, had provided insufficient time for the officials to prepare and to consult private and State Department lawyers, as well as consultations “regarding the Department’s legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information.”

He did not indicate whether he would refuse to make them available at alater date.

In their letter of response, the chairmen accused Pompeo of “stonewalling” the inquiry, noting that if he was on the Trump call with Zelenskiy, “he 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.”

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