Tension escalates between administration, lawmakers as impeachment inquiry broadens – The Washington Post
As the scope of the inquiry broadened, it touched a wide swath of top administration officials. In letters to Vice President Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded answers by Friday to questions about what they knew, when they knew it, and their roles in President Trumpâs actions regarding Ukraine.
But much of the dayâs turmoil centered on Pompeo, who said in a letter to the chairmen
of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees heading the investigation that five State Department officials called to give depositions over the next two weeks would not appear as scheduled.
Pompeo characterized the effort to depose the officials as âan attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.â
Saying that Congress had no authority to compel such testimony, Pompeo wrote that he would ânot 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 at the Department of State.â
By the end of the day, however, at least one of the five, former administration envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, planned to appear anyway before the committees Thursday. A second official, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, would appear on Oct. 11, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss lawmakersâ deliberations.
Meanwhile, the committees were notified that the State Departmentâs inspector general has requested to speak with them on Wednesday âto discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine,â according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, whose office is responsible for investigating abuse and mismanagement in the department and operates largely independently from its control, âobtained the documents from the acting legal advisor of the Department of State,â the letter said.
The inspector general does not have to seek Pompeoâs approval to approach lawmakers with information, especially if the material is not classified.
It is unclear exactly what Linick will provide the committees. But the demand for any credible information related to Ukraine and the State Department is at a fever pitch as Democrats seek to build the case for Trumpâs ouster out of his newly revealed dealings with the government of Ukraine.
The inquiry centers on a whistleblower complaint, made public last week, alleging that Trump manipulated U.S. foreign policy for political gain, withholding aid to Ukraine while pressing its government to investigate the activities of Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden and his son. That charge appeared to be borne out in a rough transcript of the call released by the White House.
Trump, who had put a hold on nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance to aid Ukraine in resisting Russian incursions in its territory, urged President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal attorney, and Attorney General William P. Barr in investigating Biden. He has charged that the former vice president intervened to squelch a corruption investigation of a Ukrainian company that employed his son, although Ukrainian officials have said Hunter Biden was not implicated in the investigation, which was later abandoned.
Pompeoâs letter followed reports that the secretary, who has sought to publicly distance himself from Trumpâs Ukraine activities, was a participant in the July 25 call by Trump to Zelensky that is at the center of the impeachment investigation.
The committee chairmen responded to Pompeo with their own broadside, saying any attempt to prevent department officials from speaking to them âis illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction,â according to a statement issued by Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who heads the foreign affairs panel.
The State Department depositions will take place behind closed doors, and there has been no word on whether a transcript would be released. Volker, who the committee official said âhas confirmed he will appear,â did not respond to requests for comment.
Yovanovitch will appear with her personal legal counsel, the official said. She was recalled by Pompeo as ambassador to Ukraine in May, before the end of her tour. In his call with Zelensky, according to the White House transcript, Trump said Yovanovitch was âbad news,â apparently because she had resisted the investigation of Biden he was seeking.
In his letter to the committees, Pompeo did not outright refuse to allow the officials to testify, but said that they and the department had been given âa woefully inadequate opportunityâ to prepare. They must also consult with, and be accompanied to any deposition by, State Department counsel âregarding the Departmentâs legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information,â he wrote.
It was unclear what recourse was available to him to prevent them from appearing, or to discipline those who decided to speak.
Other State Department officials scheduled for depositions include Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. It was unclear whether they would appear.
Pompeo has publicly brushed off questions about the whistleblowerâs account, has been frustrated by Giulianiâs efforts to implicate the State Department in his activities and insisted that it did nothing improper. Giuliani has said repeatedly that the department assisted his interactions with Ukrainian officials in pursuit of incriminating information on Biden, and a separate, but widely debunked, allegation that foreign interference in the 2016 election had come from Ukraine, rather than Russia.
âI have 40 texts from State Department officials asking me to do what I did,â Giuliani said in a Post interview last week. âThe entire idea that I did this on my own is total and complete bulls—.â
âThe whistleblower says the State Department was concerned about my activities,â he said. âThey shouldnât have been. They knew what I was doing.â
Pompeo, in addition to expressing concern to some in the White House over Giulianiâs frequent interviews and television appearances on Trumpâs behalf, had argued against release of the Zelensky transcript, as did Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the issueâs sensitivity.
Trump, however, appreciates Giulianiâs tenacity and outspokenness, said a former senior official. âTrump doesnât differentiate between who is in the government and who isnât,â the former official said.
On Friday, the committees also subpoenaed Pompeo over what they said was his failure to respond to previous requests to produce documents related to the inquiry. Pompeo left the country late Monday on a week-long trip to Europe.
In a morning Twitter barrage, Trump repeated his insistence, despite information in the White House rough transcript, that almost everything the whistleblower said about it was âwrong,â and asked âWhy arenât we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all the false information to him?â
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who broadly paraphrased the call during a hearing last week, had âmade upâ a version of the exchange, Trump said. He questioned why Schiff wasnât being âbrought up on charges.â
Later in the day, others entered the fray. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said the impeachment inquiry could expand beyond Ukraine. Impeachment, she said, âis not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement.â
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel accused House Democrats of attempting âa legislative coup dâetatâ to get rid of Trump.