Pompeo confirms he was on call between Trump and Zelensky

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed he was on a telephone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the centre of an impeachment inquiry.

“I was on the phone call,” Pompeo told reporters in Rome on Wednesday during a news conference with his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio.

Pompeo did not give information about what was in the call, saying only he was well versed in U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

“The phone call was in the context of … what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine,” he said. “It’s been remarkably consistent, and we will continue to try to drive those set of outcomes.”

Following a whistleblower complaint last week, Democrats are looking into Trump’s request to Zelensky during the July 25 phone call to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading contender in the Democratic race to run against Republican Trump in the 2020 election.

The unidentified whistleblower is said to be an intelligence agent who accused Trump of soliciting foreign interference for his personal political benefit. Trump has denied wrongdoing and assailed the probe.

Pompeo said he was proud to work with the State Department’s Ukraine team, including former special envoy Kurt Volker, who connected Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to an aide of Zelensky, to help the country fight corruption and combat Russian aggression.

“It’s what our team, including Ambassador Volker, were focused on,” Pompeo said. “It was taking down the threat that Russia poses there in Ukraine. It was about helping the Ukrainians get graft out and corruption outside of their government, and to help now this new government in the Ukraine build a successful, thriving economy.

“It’s been what State Department officials that I have had the privilege to lead have been engaged in, and it’s what we will continue to do even while all this noise is going on.”

Volker resigned abruptly from the special envoy position last Friday after Giuliani suggested the department was well aware of his efforts to get Ukraine to open a corruption probe into Biden’s son.

Pompeo faces increasing scrutiny

Pompeo is under increasing scrutiny from House Democrats leading impeachment. On Tuesday, he pushed back on House demands for interviews with State Department officials about the administration’s dealings with Ukraine that are at the centre of the inquiry.

He defended his response to House committee chairmen, who have suggested that Pompeo’s participation in the Trump-Zelensky call should require him to recuse himself from decisions on how to deal with Congress.

Pompeo asserted that House investigators contacted “State Department employees directly” and told them not to contact State Department lawyers for advice. He said the State Department would “do our constitutional duty to co-operate” with Congress, but wouldn’t tolerate “bullying and intimidation.”

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, faces subpoenas over his involvement in efforts to open a corruption probe into the business dealings in Ukraine of the son of former vice-president Joe Biden. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“We will of course do our constitutional duty to co-operate with this co-equal branch, but we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system,” Pompeo said. “And we won’t tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying and intimidating State Department employees. That’s unacceptable, and it’s not something that I’m going to permit to happen.”

Over the past few days, Democratic chairmen of the House foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees issuing subpoenas to both Pompeo and Giuliani, and scheduled depositions with a series of other current and former officials, as well as associates of Giuliani, as they seek to unearth more evidence of potential wrongdoing by Trump.

Announcements of more subpoenas and requests for depositions are expected as the impeachment investigation casts a shadow over Trump’s re-election effort.

On Twitter on Tuesday, Trump repeated his assertion that his call with Zelensky was “perfect,” and attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman.

“This is just another Fake News Media, together with their partner, the Democrat Party, HOAX!” the president tweeted.

Pompeo also took to Twitter on Tuesday to address the investigation. He posted a letter accusing New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the House foreign affairs chairman, of requesting depositions as “an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly” State Department employees.

Impeachment probe gains steam 

Meanwhile, two former officials who were engaged in the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine will meet with U.S. congressional committees starting this week.

Congressional staff were also due to attend a briefing at the Capitol on Wednesday by the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

Staff members from the Senate and House of Representatives oversight committees were invited to the briefing. The session was expected to address Ukraine-related documents that have been subpoenaed by House committees.

Kurt Volker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine, resigned abruptly last Friday following the release of the whistleblower complaint against Trump and his associates. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Volker was to go to Capitol Hill to give a deposition to House staff on Thursday, the day he had been asked to appear.

Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until she was abruptly recalled in May, has agreed to appear on Oct. 11, not on Wednesday as originally requested.

With their deep knowledge of Ukraine, testimony by Yovanovitch and Volker could be especially important to the impeachment probe.

The inquiry could lead to approval of articles of impeachment, or formal charges, against Trump in the House. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove him from office. But the president’s fellow Republicans control that chamber and have shown little appetite for removing him.

Yovanovitch was ordered back to Washington two months before the end of her three-year tour in Kyiv. The career diplomat, who had served during both Republican and Democratic administrations, had been the subject of attacks in right-leaning media and Democrats had suggested her recall was politically motivated.

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