The chairs of all three of the House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry today issued a warning to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Pompeo refused to allow five current and former State Department officials to testify before those committees. Earlier today Pompeo had indicated that five current and former State Department officials scheduled to give depositions before the committees in the impeachment inquiry would not appear. That move came as news has emerged that Pompeo himself was on the call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, making Pompeo a “fact witness”, according to a joint statement from the committee chairman, as reported by The Hill.
The three committee chairmen involved, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), issued the joint response today in quick response to Pompeo’s stonewalling regarding testimony. The statement accused Pompeo of doing what Pompeo was accusing the House committees of doing, namely intimidating witnesses, and it furthered a guideline given in the original request that failure to comply could be viewed as evidence of obstruction. The chairs’ statement read in part, according to The Hill, “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.” According to The Hill:
The chairmen of three committees leading the House’s impeachment inquiry warned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 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. …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.
The Trump administration appears to be using the same tactics of delaying, stonewalling, and refusing to recognize congressional authority that it has been using on other investigations even here amidst the gravity of an impeachment inquiry. It will be more difficult for them to refuse to comply here, though, and issuing subpoenas to compel testimony is likely going to have a much shorter turnaround time for the impeachment inquiry. That may be Democrats’ next step to get the five witnesses’ depositions they have requested which Pompeo has so far denied. Or perhaps a negotiation will yield those depositions without having to go so far as subpoenas. Pompeo did indicate today that he did plan to comply with the request for documents by the given response date of October 4 – that request came by subpoena, so it suggests Pompeo at least will comply with subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. Of course it remains to be seen by the House committees involved if the documents the State Department turns over are truly responsive to the request.