House committee chairs warn Pompeo that stonewalling could be used as evidence of obstruction

The chairmen of three committees leading the House's impeachment inquiry warned Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment MORE on Tuesday that preventing witnesses from speaking with Congress could be interpreted as evidence of obstruction.

Earlier Tuesday, Pompeo indicated five current and former State Department officials would not show up for depositions scheduled by House Democrats in connection with their investigation, citing insufficient time for them to prepare and questioning lawmakers' authority to compel the appearances.

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop intelligence community lawyer leaving position Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February MORE (D-N.Y.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse to vote next week on bill to create women's history museum The Hill's Morning Report - Icy moments between Trump, Pelosi mark national address Baltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings MORE (D-Md.) accused Pompeo of trying to intimidate witnesses and warned that it could be interpreted as attempting to withhold critical information from Congress as it tries to confirm the details of a whistleblower complaint about President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE trying to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Meghan McCain to Joy Behar: 'You guys have done a piss-poor job of convincing me that I should vote for a Democrat' MORE.

“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," Schiff, Engel and Cummings said in a joint statement.

The three chairmen also cited recent news reports that Pompeo was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the president brought up investigating Biden and his son's business dealings in Ukraine.

“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," Schiff, Engel and Cummings wrote.

"We’re committed to protecting witnesses from harassment and intimidation, and we expect their full compliance and that of the Department of State," they added.

Pompeo said in his letter that the State Department "will be in further contact as we obtain further clarity on these matters" but said the requested dates for depositions with State Department officials "are not feasible."

“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 Engel.

“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. 

 
The three committee chairmen said in a letter to Pompeo last week that the depositions would be conducted jointly by their three committees. The depositions had been scheduled for Oct. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10.
 
The committees are seeking depositions with five officials: Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy for Ukraine who resigned late last week; State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent; State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl; and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

The Foreign Affairs Committee, in consultation with the other two panels, had also subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to Trump pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens. 
 
Pompeo said in his Tuesday letter that the State Department "intends to respond" by Oct. 4.