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 (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded answers by Friday to questions about what they knew, when they knew it and their roles in Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.
But much of the day’s turmoil centered on Pompeo, who said in a letter to the chairmen
of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform 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 “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.”
Saying Congress had no authority to compel such testimony, Pompeo wrote that he would “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 at the Department of State.”
By the end of the day, however, at least one of the five — Kurt Volker, a former administration envoy to Ukraine — planned to appear anyway before the committees Thursday. A second official, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, would appear Oct. 11, according to a committee official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss lawmakers’ deliberations.
Meanwhile, the committees were notified that the State Department’s inspector general had requested to speak with them Wednesday “to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine,” 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, “obtained the documents from the acting legal advisor of the Department of State,” the letter said.
The inspector general does not have to seek Pompeo’s 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 a case for Trump’s 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. The White House last week released a rough transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky.
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.
Pompeo’s letter followed reports that the secretary, who has sought to publicly distance himself from Trump’s 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 “is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction,” 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 transcripts will be released. Volker, who the committee official said “has confirmed he will appear,” 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 “bad news,” 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 he said that they and the department had been given “a woefully inadequate opportunity” to prepare. They must also consult with, and be accompanied to any deposition by, State Department counsel “regarding the Department’s legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information,” he wrote.
It was unclear what recourse was available to Pompeo to prevent them from appearing or to discipline those who decided to speak.
The other State Department officials scheduled for depositions are Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. It was unclear whether they would appear.
Pompeo has publicly brushed off questions about the whistleblower’s account, has been frustrated by Giuliani’s efforts to implicate the State Department in his activities and has insisted that the agency did nothing improper. Giuliani has said repeatedly that the department assisted his interactions with Ukrainian officials in pursuit of incriminating information on Biden, as well as a separate and widely debunked allegation that foreign interference in the 2016 election had come from Ukraine, rather than Russia.
“I have 40 texts from State Department officials asking me to do what I did,” Giuliani said in a Post interview last week. “The entire idea that I did this on my own is total and complete bulls---.”
“The whistleblower says the State Department was concerned about my activities,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been. They knew what I was doing.”
Pompeo, in addition to expressing concern to some in the White House about Giuliani’s frequent interviews and television appearances on Trump’s behalf, had argued against the release of the Zelensky transcript, as did Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
The president, however, appreciates Giuliani’s tenacity and outspokenness, said a former senior official. “Trump doesn’t differentiate between who is in the government and who isn’t,” 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’s rough transcript, that almost everything the whistleblower said about it was “wrong,” and he asked, “Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all the false information to him?”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who broadly paraphrased the call during a hearing last week, had “made up” a version of the exchange, Trump said. He questioned why Schiff wasn’t being “brought up on charges.”
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 wrote on Twitter, “is not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement.”
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, meanwhile, accused House Democrats of attempting “a legislative coup d’etat” to get rid of Trump.