Pompeo was responding to a letter the three chairs — of the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs committees — sent last week, scheduling depositions for five current and former State Department officials, as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry.
The Democratic chairs demanded interviews to shed light on Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president to get involved in the next U.S. election on Trump’s behalf, by helping validate conspiracy theories undercutting the legitimacy of the special counsel investigation, and by manufacturing smears against potential general election opponent Joe Biden.
The Democrats want to interview former ambassador Kurt Volker, who played a direct role in helping organize Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani’s meetings as part of that pressure campaign, a former ambassador who was targeted by Giuliani as disloyal to Trump and a State Department official who listened in on Trump’s July 25 call, among others.
Pompeo flatly denied the request, insisting the Democrats were trying to “intimidate” and “bully” those officials, and claiming he will not “tolerate such tactics.” Pompeo’s argument appears to be that because Democrats didn’t subpoena them, the demand has no legal basis and thus is an attempt to unduly pressure them.
“If true, Secretary Pompeo is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry,” the Democrats said. “He should immediately cease intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President.”
The idea here is that, in part because Pompeo’s letter almost certainly represents Trump’s will in this situation, those State officials might feel intimidated from honoring Congress’s demands as part of its institutional oversight role.
But I want to focus on this in particular from the Democrats’ statement:
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.
Democrats now have the administration in something of a box: With the leadership fully behind an impeachment inquiry, any further administration stonewalling constitutes evidence supporting an article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress. See my explainer on this here.
But the other key point to note is that such resistance is likely to further build the public case for Trump’s impeachment and may well help bring along voters to support it.
New polls strongly suggest this possibility. A new Monmouth poll finds that Americans now support an inquiry that may or may not lead to impeachment by 49 percent to 43 percent, a jump of 8 points since last month. But a smaller percentage — 44 percent — say Trump should be impeached and removed.
Similarly, a new Quinnipiac poll finds that voters approve of the impeachment inquiry by 52 percent to 45 percent, but they’re more evenly split on removal, at 47 percent to 47 percent.
And this week’s CBS poll finds that 55 percent approve of the impeachment inquiry. But 42 percent say the Ukraine scandal merits actual impeachment — with 22 percent saying it’s too soon to say, suggesting a lot of room to build on that.
In other words, support for the process of inquiring into whether Trump merits impeachment is higher than support for the final, decisive act of removal. This suggests that large swaths of Americans — a majority in some polls, a plurality in others — believe Trump may deserve impeachment and removal, and want to see a process initiated to explore that possibility. Yet they also still want to be convinced this final punishment is deserved.
It seems likely that if Trump and the administration keep up with the maximal bad-faith stonewalling — punctuated with things such as Trump endorsing the prospect of civil war, intimating that the whistleblower should be executed and suggesting the Intelligence Committee chair should be arrested for investigating him — it will only help build the case that Trump should be impeached.
Democrats are already in the process of making the case that Trump’s stonewalling constitutes grounds for an article of impeachment for obstructing Congress. Trump’s flagrantly unhinged misconduct will likely help build this case, by compounding impressions of his guilt and lawlessness.