U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is accusing House Democrats of trying to 'intimidate and bully' five State Department officials who lawmakers want to question in the Trump Ukraine phone call scandal.
House leaders want information and documents the State Department may have about the July 25 telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The phone call is at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into whether Trump sought Zelenskiy’s help in digging up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Pompeo allegedly listened in on that call.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled depositions with five current and former State Department officials and what they may know about Trump's interaction with Zelenskiy.
They include former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former special envoy Kurt Volker, who resigned last week, and a State Department counselor.
Pompeo sent a letter to the committee Tuesday, saying he will not "tolerate such tactics."
"Aspects of the committee's request...can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the department of State," he wrote.
Pompeo said he will use "all means" at his disposal to stop what he calls bullying.
The powerful chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees are accusing Pompeo himself of intimidating witnesses in order to protect himself and Trump.
They reminded Pompeo in their own letter Tuesday that any effort to prevent the State Department officials from talking with Congress is illegal and seen as "evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry."
If Pompeo or anyone else tries to withhold documents and testimony, Congress would regard that as corroboration of a whistleblower’s account of Trump’s telephone call with Zelenskiy.
In the July 25 phone call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to "look into" Joe Biden and Biden's son Hunter. Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that had been the subject of a corruption investigation.
Trump alleges that when Biden was U.S. vice president, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees to Ukraine unless the government fired the prosecutor investigating the gas company.
Hunter Biden was never the subject of the corruption probe and there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
But Trump may have committed an impeachable offense by reaching out to a foreign government in order to improve his chances of re-election in 2020.
Trump’s call came after he withheld up $400 million in aid Ukraine badly wanted to combat the insurgency by Russian-backed separatists.
Democrats also want to know whether the president offered a so-called "quid pro quo" to Zelenskiy, including the release of the funds to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of Biden – which may also be grounds for impeachment.
Trump also pressured Zelenskiy to meet with Attorney General William Barr and Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has been pushing hard for an investigation of Biden.
In Kyiv Tuesday, Zelenskiy said he is the president of an independent nation and said no one can "pressure or influence" him. He denies ever meeting with or speaking Giuliani and said Ukraine wants to stay out U.S. politics.
Trump has accused the still anonymous whistleblower of providing false information and not having any direct knowledge of the call with Zelenskiy.
"So if the so-called "Whistleblower" has all second hand information, and almost everything he has said about my "perfect call with the Ukrainian President is wrong... why aren't we entitled to interview and learn everything about .... the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave false information to him," Trump tweeted.
The acting director of national intelligence has said the whistleblower’s account of the phone call is accurate.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who has been a Trump supporter, said Tuesday the whistleblower followed the law and must be protected.
Lawyers representing the whistleblower have expressed concerns for the individual's safety and stressed the need to keep his or her identity secret.