Democrats warn State Dept against punishing individuals who testify in impeachment hearings

Democrats warn State Dept against punishing individuals who testify in impeachment hearings
© Aaron Schwartz

A group of Senate Democrats is urging top State Department officials to commit that individuals who testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry hearings won't face retaliation over their remarks.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezForeign Relations Democrat calls on Iran to release other American prisoners GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' MORE (D-N.J.), the committee's ranking member, sent a letter on Tuesday to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao urging them to publicly commit to protecting department officials who testify from any potential professional blowback.

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"We call on you to emphatically and unequivocally support and protect these employees to your fullest abilities, including by issuing statements of support and ensuring they are not subject to any act of reprisal," the 10 senators wrote in the letter.

They added that the officials should "do your part to show employees that the Department stands with them, and remains supportive of their sacrifices in the name of our national security."

The Democratic senators want an update within three business days on the steps the officials will take to support State Department personnel.

The letter comes ahead of the first public hearings as part of the House impeachment inquiry. William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will testify on Wednesday. Maria Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, will testify on Friday.

Senate Democrats said they had become "increasingly alarmed by the Department’s lack of support and utter silence for veteran diplomats and career public servants." They noted they were not sending the letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump administration imposes sanction on Saudi diplomat over Khashoggi killing Mulvaney: 'Politics can and should influence foreign policy' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE "because his silence to date speaks volumes."

"We call on you to take all necessary steps to protect them, and other officials who come before Congress, including addressing any threats to their safety and ensuring they do not suffer any retaliation or reprisals," they added.

Pompeo, whom Democrats have accused of helping stonewall the impeachment inquiry, told Live 5 in Charleston, S.C., on Monday that he hoped officials who testified will do so "truthfully" and "accurately." 

"When they do, the oversight role will have been performed," he added.