ADDS CONGRESSIONAL RESPONSE; EDITS FOR FLOW
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo struck a defiant tone Tuesday when he told lawmakers he would not allow State Department staffers to heed depositions requested to take place starting this week.
Pompeo was subpoenaed last week by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, who also requested depositions from five State Department officials beginning Oct. 2.
The top diplomat said he will respond to the committees' request to hand over Ukraine-related documents by the Oct. 4 deadline, but vowed to block former and current State Department officials from testifying about matters related to Ukraine as the House of Representatives continues its impeachment investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump.
Pompeo said the efforts "can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State."
"I will 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," Pompeo wrote in a letter to Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The depositions were scheduled to begin Wednesday with Washington's former Ukraine envoy, Marie Yovanovitch, and run through next week. The former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, resigned from the volunteer post last Friday.
The House also sought to depose Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and the U.S.'s EU envoy Gordon Sondland.
Engel, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings swiftly responded to Pompeo, accusing him of stonewalling and intimidating witnesses as they carry out an impeachment investigation into Trump that is centered on his July 25 telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Secretary Pompeo was reportedly on the call when the President pressed Ukraine to smear his political opponent. If true, Secretary 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," the chairmen said in a joint 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," Engel, Schiff and Cummings said. "In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistleblower complaint."
The House began its impeachment investigation into Trump last week, centered on the July call in which Trump repeatedly asked Zelensky to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, on uncorroborated corruption claims.
The elder Biden is the leading Democratic candidate heading into next year's presidential elections, making him a clear political rival to Trump. Soliciting the assistance of a foreign leader to undermine Biden has raised questions of election interference that have been the foundation for the House's impeachment investigation.
Trump has denied any sort of wrongdoing, maintaining his call with Zelensky was "perfect" while seeking to undermine a whistleblower whose complaint brought the telephone call and other related matters to the public's attention.
"So if the so-called 'Whistleblower' has all second hand information, and almost everything he has said about my 'perfect' call with the Ukrainian President is wrong (much to the embarrassment of Pelosi & Schiff), why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him," Trump fumed on Twitter, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
Trump said Monday he is trying to unmask the whistleblower, whose identity is protected by U.S. law.
"The Intel Community Whistleblower is entitled to anonymity. Law and policy support this and the individual is not to be retaliated against. Doing so is a violation of federal law," Andrew Bakaj, one of the individual's lawyers said on Twitter.
The individual has remained anonymous, though media reports have indicated the person is a male who was a CIA employee assigned to the White House. He or she is expected to testify before the House in the not too distant future, according to Schiff, who said his committee is working to establish a way the testimony could be held in a format that would protect the individual's identity.