Updated at 3:01 p.m. ET
In an escalating standoff, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back Tuesday on House Democrats who want to question several State Department officials as part of their impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Pompeo accused them of seeking to “intimidate” and “bully” State Department employees. House leadership then lobbed the charge back at Pompeo, saying he should stop “intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President.”
The clash has thrown into question whether the officials’ depositions will happen this week as planned.
“I will not tolerate such tactics,” Pompeo said in his Tuesday letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, “and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside at the Department of State.”
The letter comes as the State Department finds itself further intertwined in the House impeachment inquiry after reports that Pompeo was among the administration officials who listened in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president.
In response Tuesday afternoon, the three Democratic committee chairmen said in a statement they expect “full compliance” from the current and former State Department witnesses to appear at scheduled depositions on Wednesday.
Referring to reports that Pompeo was on the call between Trump and Zelenskiy, the lawmakers warned that the secretary of state “should immediately cease intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President.”
According to a transcript of the call, Trump repeatedly asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who’s now Trump’s personal attorney, on an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
A whistleblower’s complaint about the call alleged White House officials were so concerned about what the president had said that they acted to “lock down” the official transcript of the conversation by putting it into a secret code word system.
Last week, House Democratic leaders subpoenaed Pompeo for documents and raised questions about whether the State Department was involved in alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 election.
On Sept. 27, Engel, joined by Reps. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee and Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee, also wrote a letter to schedule the depositions of five State Department officials to be conducted over the next two weeks.
“The Committees are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression,” the chairmen wrote.
Pompeo accused committee staff of giving inadequate time for deposed individuals to prepare and retain proper legal counsel. He said the committees have also sent “intimidating communications” to career department professional outside normal channels.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, backed Pompeo. He accused Democrats of putting “our nation’s diplomatic interests at risk.”
“The Democrats are choosing confrontation over cooperation and exploiting their power solely to attack this President and undo the results of the 2016 election,” Jordan said.