Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration State Department offers M reward for foreign election interference information State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration MORE signaled Tuesday that five current and former State Department officials would not show up for depositions scheduled by House Democrats in connection with their impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo asserted that the House's demand for testimony from five current and former State Department officials beginning this week raised “significant legal and procedural concerns” and questioned the committee’s authority to compel an appearance by officials for a deposition through the letters sent last week, according to a letter that the secretary of State released on his Twitter feed. 

“Based on the profound legal and procedural deficiencies … the Committee’s requested dates for depositions are not feasible,” Pompeo wrote, adding that the State Department “will be in further contact with the committee in the near future as we obtain further clarity on these matters.” 

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The secretary of State also claimed that there is “no legal basis” for Democrats' threat that the failure of the officials to meet their timeline for documents and testimony would constitute obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. He raised concerns that House Democrats are seeking to “intimidate” State Department officials with a slew of requests on Ukraine and President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE's interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I’m concerned with aspects of your request that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career Foreign Service Officers,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHuffPost reporter discusses progressives' successful showing on Tuesday Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets Progressives soaring after big primary night MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.

“Let me be clear: 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.

However, a House Intelligence Committee official said later that one of the officials, former State Department special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, had confirmed he would appear for a scheduled deposition on Thursday. The official also said that Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, would appear on Oct. 11 for a deposition originally scheduled for Wednesday. 

Pompeo took issue with the committees for what he described as a failure to notice the deposition to the department in accordance with House rules. He also said that the proposed dates offered by the committees for depositions “do not provide adequate time for the Department and its employees to appropriately prepare.”

Engel, as well as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden comes to Washington to honor John Lewis Lawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis We have 100 days to make our nation right MORE (D-Md.), said in a letter to Pompeo last week that the depositions would be conducted jointly by their three committees.

The depositions requested by the committees last week had been scheduled for Oct. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10.

In a joint statement issued later Tuesday, the three chairmen raised the possibility that Pompeo was engaging in witness intimidation, citing reports from the day prior that the top diplomat participated in the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint.

The Democrats said that would make him a “fact witness” in the impeachment inquiry and that his actions could constitute obstruction of Congress.

“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. In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistleblower complaint,” Engel, Schiff and Cummings said in a joint statement.

“The Committees are operating pursuant to our long-established authorities as well as the impeachment inquiry,” they continued. “We’re committed to protecting witnesses from harassment and intimidation, and we expect their full compliance and that of the Department of State.”

In addition to requesting depositions with the five current and former State Department officials, the House committee chairmen had also subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to Trump pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report MORE, a potential 2020 rival, and his son, Hunter. 

Pompeo also said the State Department "acknowledges receipt" of last week's subpoena and "intends to respond" by the noticed date of Oct. 4.

Pompeo also accused Engel of trying to prevent State Department counsel from participating in the depositions, something he said amounted to an effort to “circumvent” the constitutional interests of the executive branch. Pompeo said he would refuse to allow the officials to appear for the depositions in the absence of department counsel.

“This amounts to an attempt to circumvent the Executive Branch’s unquestionably legitimate constitutional interest in protecting potentially privileged information related to the conduct of diplomatic relations,” Pompeo wrote.

“Therefore, the five officials subject to your letter may not attend any interview or deposition without counsel from the Executive Branch present to ensure that the Executive Branch’s constitutional authority to control the disclosure of confidential information, including deliberative matters and diplomatic communications, is not impaired,” he continued.

Pompeo also said the committee’s requests sent to the same officials for documents appeared to “duplicate” a previous request sent to the State Department and argued that the documents are the property of the State Department. He asserted that the committee in doing so was engaging in an “act of intimidation” and inviting the officials to violate federal records laws. 

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He also accused committee staff of sending “intimidating communications” to career employees at the State Department who had asked that the requests be sent to the Bureau of Legislative Affairs as is normally done. 

The first depositions had been scheduled for Wednesday with Yovanovitch, and Thursday with Volker, who was Trump's special envoy for Ukraine until his resignation Friday. 

The intelligence community whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry alleged in their complaint that Volker visited Kiev with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and met with Ukrainian officials to discuss how to "navigate" the "demands" Trump had made of Zelensky in a phone call the day before.

The House committees are also seeking depositions with Sondland, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent and State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. Kent is the only one of the five officials not to be mentioned in the whistleblower complaint. 

Yovanovitch served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until May when she was recalled from her post. 

Trump said in his July 25 call with Zelensky that Yovanovitch was “bad news,” according to a declassified rough transcript of the call released by the White House.

“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump said.

—Updated at 5:32 p.m.