Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused the Democratic chairs of three House committees investigating the State Department’s role in Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine of trying to “intimidate, bully, and treat improperly” five State Department officials called for depositions.
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In the fierce letter, released on Twitter and addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Pompeo blasted the depositions in the impeachment probe as rushed and potentially in violation of executive privilege, accused committee staff of not following protocol, and appeared to say the officials will not show up.
“Based on the profound procedural and legal deficiencies noted above, the Committee’s request dates for depositions are not feasible,” Pompeo concluded his letter.
(MORE: House Democrats subpoena Pompeo for documents related to Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo walk out of the plane upon arriving at Ciampino military airport, in Rome, Oct. 1, 2019.
Five State Department officials have been scheduled for depositions, according to the letter from House Democratic chairs Friday: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe George Kent, State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker, the Special Envoy for Ukraine who submitted his resignation Friday. Yovanovitch was scheduled to appear before staff from the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees on Wednesday and Volker on Thursday.
But Pompeo made it seem that none of the officials would appear for depositions: “The committee has not issued any subpoenas for depositions, and we are not aware of any other authority by which the committee to could compel appearance at a deposition.”
He says there has been no official notice of a deposition and the department has not been given enough time to prepare the officials — some of whom have sought personal attorneys, he says, while others need more time to do so. Even after they do so, the officials and their attorneys need to meet State Department lawyers because the department has “legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information,” according to Pompeo.
(MORE: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on July call between Trump, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy)
“This information may also remain subject to federal rules relating to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Pompeo added, saying lawyers from the executive branch would have to be present for the depositions, too. Pompeo asserted that was the case even for Volker, who no longer works for the department. It’s unclear if that is the case.
The letter is sure to prompt a strong response from House Democrats, who have pushed for an expeditious investigation into President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s push to have Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, investigate former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake hands during their meeting, Oct. 1, 2019, at Palazzo Chigi in Rome.
The State Department has increasingly been drawn into the controversy after news that Pompeo was part of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy where he pressed the new president to cooperate with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr on an investigation. Senior officials like Volker and Sondland also assisted Giuliani in contacting the Zelenskiy administration, with the department confirming in August that Volker contacted Giuliani to put him in touch with Zelenskiy’s advisers at their request.
Pompeo himself was also subpoenaed by the three committees to produce documents related to the controversy. In his letter, he does not say whether he will comply, just that the department “intends to respond to that subpoena by the noticed return date” this Friday.
(MORE: Kurt Volker resigns as US special envoy to Ukraine amid Giuliani controversy)
While the House Democratic chairmen have warned that not appearing at these depositions or failing to comply with the subpoenas would be “evidence of obstruction,” Pompeo blasted that, writing, “There is no legal basis for such a threat… I urge you to exercise restraint in making such unfounded statements in the future.”
He also accused Engel’s committee’s staff of trying to “intimidate” the five officials by reaching out to them directly, rather than through channels with the department: “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.”
In Italy Tuesday, in a photo-op with the country’s prime minister, Pompeo ignored a reporter’s question about whether he was on the Ukraine call.