With Washington in tumult over the escalating impeachment inquiry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured southeast Europe on Friday, trying to ignore the furor back home that has engulfed his department.
Pompeo did not respond to shouted questions from journalists with him as he traveled to Montenegro and North Macedonia to show support for a current NATO ally and a soon-to-be one, as a Ukraine-focused impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump picked up steam.
The top U.S. diplomat flew to the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica and then on to Ohrid in North Macedonia, a day after one of his former top aides told congressional investigators in Washington about efforts to press Ukraine's government to open a corruption probe that could have targeted former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
Pompeo did not speak with reporters about the actions of former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker aboard his plane on either flight or during a photo opportunity with Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic.
Meanwhile, the State Department had no comment on Volker's 10-hour congressional interview on Thursday or on the text messages he turned over that detail a push to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commit to the corruption probe in exchange for a visit to Washington.
Shortly after Pompeo left Rome, where he spent three days on the first leg of a four-nation tour of Europe, Ukraine's Prosecutor General said his office is reviewing all the cases that were closed by his predecessors, including several related to the owner of a gas company where Biden's son Hunter sat on the board.
Earlier this week in Rome, Pompeo acknowledged for the first time that he had been on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy during which an investigation was raised. He said the call was part of a broader effort to get Ukraine to crack down on corruption that Volker and others were involved in. He has said previously that no one from the State Department acted inappropriately in dealing with Ukraine.
House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine matter after a government whistleblower disclosed Trump's call with Zelenskiy and the push to have a foreign government interfere in U.S. elections by digging up dirt on Biden.
Montenegro and North Macedonia
Like Ukraine, Montenegro and North Macedonia are seeking closer ties with the West. Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, 11 years after it regained independence, and is seeking membership in the European Union. North Macedonia will become NATO's 30th member as soon as the other allies complete their ratification processes.
Pompeo congratulated Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic for progress his country has made in improving its economy and said he had discussed broadening and strengthening U.S.-Montenegro economic and security ties as well as promoting anti-corruption and rule of law reforms.
In the ancient city of Ohrid in North Macedonia, Pompeo was expected to cover similar ground with President Stevo Pendarovski.
Later Friday, Pompeo will travel to Athens where he will meet Greek officials over the weekend before returning to Washington and the center of the impeachment inquiry.