WASHINGTON, D.C. — Taking a defiant stance in the impeachment inquiry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday declared that House Democrats are trying to “intimidate, bully and treat improperly” five current and former career officials in seeking information in the Ukraine investigation.
Pompeo said in a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as part of the chamber’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, that the requested dates for the officials to voluntarily appear for depositions were “not feasible.”
“I am concerned with aspects of your request,” Pompeo wrote to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the panel. “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.”
The muscular response from Pompeo came one day after it was disclosed that he was among those listening in on Trump’s July phone call with the Ukraine president that helped trigger the impeachment inquiry. The pushback signals a stiffening in the confrontation between the executive and legislative branches over impeachment.
House Democrats launched what they are calling an impeachment inquiry of Trump after an unnamed accuser made allegations of impropriety related to the president’s phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
In halting any appearances by State officials, and demanding that executive branch lawyers accompany them, Pompeo is underscoring the administration’s expansive view of the White House’s authority and setting the tone for conflicts to come.
When issuing a separate subpoena last week as part of the inquiry, the chairmen of three House committees made it clear that stonewalling their investigation would be considered obstruction of Congress in its investigation.
The panels are seeking documents from the State Department and voluntary testimony from the current and former officials.
“Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry,” wrote Engel and the other chairmen, Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, and Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee.
The chairmen in their letter were seeking testimony over the next two weeks from officials including the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, and former special envoy Kurt Volker.
Volker played a direct role in arranging meetings between Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the chairmen said, as part of what is seen as a backchannel to Kyiv.
The Democrats also want to hear from T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, they said.
It’s unclear whether Pompeo will comply with the committees’ request for documents by Friday. He had declined to comply with their previous requests for information.
Pompeo, traveling in Italy to meet with the country’s president and prime minister, ignored shouted question about the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.
On Monday Democrats subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, in their probe of the president’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. With Congress out of session for observance of the Jewish holidays, Democrats moved aggressively against Giuliani, requesting by Oct. 15 “text messages, phone records and other communications” that they referred to as possible evidence. They also requested documents and depositions from three of his business associates.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) swatted down talk that that the GOP-controlled Senate could dodge the matter of impeachment if the House approved charges against Trump.
“It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment, it would take 67 votes to change, so I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell said on CNBC. “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.”
Democrats have orders from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep momentum going despite a two-week recess that started Friday. Staff for three committees are scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday to depose Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was removed by the Trump administration earlier this year, and Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as America’s Ukrainian envoy. Members of intelligence committee on Friday will interview Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who first received the whistleblower’s complaint.
Democrats are driving the proceedings toward what some hope is a vote to impeach, or indict, Trump by year’s end. They have launched a coordinated messaging and polling strategy aimed at keeping any political backlash in closely-divided districts from toppling their House majority.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows 47% of registered voters say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 47% say he should not. In the CNN poll, 47% said Trump should be impeached and removed from office, up from 41% in May.
Both polls showed dramatic partisan polarization remains on impeachment: most Democrats expressing support, the vast majority of Republicans opposed. The polls disagreed over whose opinions are changing — Quinnipiac showing increased impeachment support coming more from Democrats, CNN from Republicans.
Schiff said on Sunday that his intelligence panel would hear from the still-secret whistleblower “very soon” but that no date had been set and other details remained to be worked out.
Jonathan Lemire, Emily Swanson and Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press contributed to this report.