Pompeo’s Obstructionism Won’t Work

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

From personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s brazen cable-TV admissions to the summary phone-call transcript that wasn’t exactly summarized in the president’s favor, President Donald Trump’s own involvement in the scheme to get foreign governments to investigate his political rivals is well-established. (Just in case there were any doubt, on Thursday Trump publicly called on China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.)

But big names continue to surface in the churn of news surrounding the impeachment inquiry into Trump. A Washington Post report on Wednesday night said Trump had involved Vice President Mike Pence in exerting pressure on Ukraine. Hours before, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that he had been on the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry. Pompeo made the admission at a news conference in Italy, where Attorney General William Barr last week met with Italian intelligence officials.

But Pompeo’s admission should not be mistaken for a sign of conciliation — in fact, earlier this week, Pompeo sent a combative letter to the three congressional committee chairmen who have issued subpoenas for documents and testimony from multiple senior State Department officials. In the letter, Pompeo indicated that the administration would not comply with the requests, accusing the chairmen of attempting to “intimidate, bully, and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career Foreign Service Officers.”

As American Oversight’s executive director Austin Evers noted, this response from Pompeo to constitutionally essential legislative branch oversight marks a continuation of the administration’s across-the-board refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations or make the necessary compromises of the traditional “accommodations process.” Writes Evers: 

There is no acknowledgment of Congress’ legitimate interests, no pledge to cooperate, no olive branch of compromise or negotiation. It is an aggressive assertion of technical and atmospheric objections that the House committees have fairly interpreted as a total rejection of their inquiry. … He appears to be taking a page out of Trump’s playbook — refusing to compromise in any way, refusing to recognize the fundamental system of checks and balances, and placing himself and his agency above the law.

In a joint statement, the House chairmen responded to Pompeo’s letter with a warning that such a refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations could be considered “evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry” — an action that itself could be grounds for impeachment.

Pompeo’s uncooperative posture isn’t just a threat to checks and balances — many observers also noted the irony of both the secretary’s approach to congressional oversight and his purported concern for career officials at the State Department. During his tenure in Congress, Pompeo sat on the Select Committee on Benghazi, where his demands for State Department cooperation with the committee’s investigation evinced a markedly different approach to executive branch oversight. 

Of course, Pompeo’s obstructionist signaling didn’t prevent Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative to Ukraine who resigned last week, from testifying in a closed-door meeting with House investigators. According to the Washington Post, Volker said that he had warned Giuliani that Giuliani’s sources for information about the Bidens were unreliable and had cautioned the Ukrainians against getting involved.

Additionally, American Oversight has an active lawsuit for State Department records, and on Friday morning asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to compel the department to immediately begin releasing the requested documents. “It’s hard to imagine how the public’s need for the truth about Ukraine could be any more urgent,” said Evers. The lawsuit seeks communications with or about Giuliani and his efforts, and about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in May and was mentioned by Trump on his July 25 call with Zelensky. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump ordered her recall after complaints from Giuliani and other allies outside the administration.

On Thursday, NBC’s Richard Engel reported that former intelligence officials say that Pompeo was prone to “fits of ‘anger’” while serving as CIA chief. According to Engel, “Pompeo was a bully to subordinates, driving some to quit or seek new assignments. ‘Throwing binders was a popular sport,’ said one.” American Oversight has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for any records of complaints filed by CIA or State Department employees concerning Pompeo’s conduct — like the secretary of state, we’re also concerned about attempts to bully State Department officials.

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September 20, 2019

News Roundup: Trump, Giuliani, and Ukraine

Administration for Children and Families, Agency for International Development, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Reserve, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Institutes of Health, Starr County - Texas, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Texas Attorney General, Texas Secretary of State, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
News
September 12, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks State Department Records of Jared Kushner’s Middle East Trips

Department of State
Investigation Update
June 7, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating Outside Influence and Political Appointments at the State Department

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration
News
March 12, 2019

Investigating the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, International Trade Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
News
January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
News
December 12, 2018

Audit the Wall: No Plans, Funding or Timeline — And No Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State
Investigation Update
February 9, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks DHS Border Wall Emails with White House, Fox News, Border States

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
October 31, 2017

American Oversight Sues State Department for Records Showing Efforts to Compel Mexico to Pay for Border Wall

Department of State
News
October 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

Department of Justice
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
August 1, 2017

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
August 1, 2017

Statement on Waiver of Environmental Regulations for Border Wall

Investigation Update
July 21, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
News
July 13, 2017

DOJ Releases Redacted Page of Sessions’s SF-86 to American Oversight

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
June 16, 2017

Watchdog Group Files Lawsuit on Trump Border Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
May 24, 2017

After American Oversight Lawsuit, DOJ Confirms that Sessions Lied about Russian Contacts

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 16, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 12, 2017

Letter to Burr and Warner: Senate Should Request Trump-Comey Tapes

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 10, 2017

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 10, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
April 19, 2017

American Oversight Sues DOJ for Release of Trump Tower Wiretap Records, Russia Investigation Documents

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, White House
Investigation Update
March 28, 2017

Statement on Trump Administration Proposal to Build Border Wall South of Rio Grande

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
March 22, 2017

Statement on Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes’ Actions

Investigation Update
March 17, 2017

American Oversight Calls on Congress to Investigate Trump Aide’s Reported Ties to Nazi Group

Office of Government Ethics, White House
News