Mike Pompeo blocks depositions for Trump inquiry

US committee’s request around Ukraine call ‘not feasible’, says secretary of state

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: listened in  to the phone call between Mr Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25th. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: listened in to the phone call between Mr Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25th. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

 

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has blocked five state department officials from providing depositions to Congress, accusing Democrats of trying to “intimidate” officials over the Ukraine controversy.

In a sign of the constitutional battle ahead between the executive and legislative branches of government as Democrats begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Mr Pompeo said the committee’s request for depositions were “not feasible”.

“I’m concerned with aspects of your request that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the department of state, including several career foreign service officers,” he wrote to the head of the foreign affairs committee on Tuesday, adding that he would not tolerate such “tactics”.

The move effectively prohibits Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, from testifying before Congress on Wednesday as planned. Similarly, Thursday’s scheduled appearance by Kurt Volker, Mr Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine who resigned last Friday, is unlikely to go ahead.

Both were involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to reach out to the Ukrainian government in a bid to solicit information about former vice-president Joe Biden’s involvement in the country.

Fresh allegations

The other three officials are deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent, state department counsellor T Ulrich Brechbuhl, and America’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

It has since emerged that Mr Pompeo himself listened in to the disputed phone call between Mr Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25th that is central to the Democrats’ impeachment move.

The Trump administration is also facing fresh allegations that it co-opted foreign governments to help domestic investigations, following confirmation that Mr Trump asked Australian prime minister Scott Morrison to assist in the department of justice’s inquiry into the origins of the Mueller investigation.

Following the completion of Mr Mueller’s report earlier this year, attorney general William Barr appointed John Durham to lead an investigation into the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election amid concerns that US intelligence agencies may have improperly surveyed members of the Trump campaign team.

Russian role

Australia’s involvement stems from 2016, when its top diplomat in London informed the FBI about alleged Russian involvement in the election.

The New York Times reported that White House officials sought to limit oversight of Mr Trump’s phone call with Mr Morrison in a similar way that the disputed phone call of July 25th with the Ukrainian president was protected.

As well as Australia’s involvement, Mr Barr has also travelled to Italy in recent weeks to seek information from the Italian government about US intelligence’s efforts to oversee the Trump campaign.

Mr Trump continued his attack on the whistleblower at the centre of the controversy on Tuesday, asking why he was not permitted to interview the anonymous official as well as “the person who gave all of the false information to him”.

“This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer or better,” he tweeted, noting that the Ukrainian president had said he received “no pressure” during the phone call. “It is just another Democrat Hoax!”

Prominent Republican Chuck Grassley, however, spoke out in support of the whistleblower.

“This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected,” he said. “We should always work to respect whistleblowers.”