Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the dates of the scheduled depositions don't give the department enough time to prepare. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused House Democrats of attempting to bully and intimidate current and former State Department officials the lawmakers seek to depose as part of an impeachment investigation.
He sent a letter to House foreign affairs committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., resisting the plans to interview the five officials and questioning the lawmakers' authority to do so.
"I am 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," Pompeo wrote.
Engel, along with House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House oversight and reform committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter to Pompeo last week scheduling depositions for five current and former State Department officials related to the committees' investigations into reports President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate his 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Their letter also subpoenaed Pompeo seeking documents related to the probe.
The committees scheduled depositions this and next week for former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; former Ambassador Kurt Volker, who resigned as envoy to Ukraine on Friday; George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl; and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Pompeo said the schedule didn't provide the State Department with enough time to prepare for the depositions.
"Based on the profound legal and procedural deficiencies ... the Committee's requested dates for depositions are not feasible," Pompeo wrote. He said the State Department "will be in further contact with the committee in the near future as we obtain further clarity on these matters."
The leaders of the three committees accused Pompeo of "stonewalling" the House's impeachment inquiry.
"Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress -- including State Department employees -- is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry," they said in a statement. "In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistleblower complaint."
The request for depositions Friday came days after the White House released a memo of a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the president urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Scrutiny over the phone call began last month when a whistle-blower in the intelligence community filed a complaint with the office of the director of national intelligence over the July call.
Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have both said they have encouraged Ukraine -- in other conversations -- to carry out an investigation. Trump accused the Democratic Joe Biden of pressuring Ukraine to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma, a gas company for which the former vice president's son, Hunter Biden, served on the board.
Shokin's successor, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told Bloomberg in May that the investigation into the company began before Hunter Biden joined the board, and he wasn't specifically a target of the probe. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the investigation into Burisma ended more than a year before Joe Biden called for the ouster of Shokin.
Multiple Western countries, including the United States, had called for Shokin's removal due to allegations of corruption.