WASHINGTON (CN) – A conversation between presidents that fired up an impeachment probe, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listened in.
“I was on the phone call,” Pompeo confirmed Wednesday morning in Rome at a press conference with Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, as first reported by The New York Times.
Pompeo’s participation marks the latest development in an increasingly tense back-and-forth between the secretary and a trio of House committee chairmen investigating the July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky in which President Donald Trump admittedly urged the Ukraine government to investigate his 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter.
The chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees — Congressmen Adam Schiff of California, Eliot Engel of New York and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, respectively – issued a subpoena to the secretary just a week earlier.
Records they seek related to the July call include correspondence mentioning former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Hunter Biden or other State Department officials who may have documents relevant to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani’s contact with Ukraine officials.
Any failure to comply with the investigation, the chairmen warned Pompeo, would be considered evidence of obstruction.
Pompeo initially responded by slamming the lawmakers, claiming they were “bullying” State Department officials and had not provided an adequate amount of time for officials to respond to records requests and interviews.
In a letter Tuesday, Schiff, Engel and Cummings also notified Pompeo that if he was on the call with Trump and Zelensky, he is considered a fact witness and has a “conflict of interest,” therefore making him ineligible to make decisions on who might testify before Congress or which lawmakers they could speak to privately.
State Department inspector general Steve Linick may throw some cold water on the smoldering tensions between the department and Congress: He is expected to meet with lawmakers Wednesday and will reportedly provide copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.
During the press conference in Rome, the secretary reiterated his position on the congressional requests.
“What we objected to was the demands that were put that deeply violate fundamental principles of separation of powers,” Pompeo said. “They contacted State Department employees directly, told them not to contact legal counsel at the State Department — at least that’s been reported to us — told them State Department wouldn’t be allowed to be present.”