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Sec­re­tary of State de­fends Trump’s con­spir­acy the­ory

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U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pompeo said Satur­day the State Depart­ment in­tends to fol­low the law in the House im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion and vig­or­ously de­fended Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, dis­miss­ing ques­tions about the pres­i­dent’s at­tempts to push Ukraine and China to in­ves­ti­gate a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal ri­val.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pompeo said Satur­day the State Depart­ment in­tends to fol­low the law in the House im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion and vig­or­ously de­fended Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, dis­miss­ing ques­tions about the pres­i­dent’s at­tempts to push Ukraine and China to in­ves­ti­gate a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal ri­val.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and House Democrats of­ten dis­agree about what the law re­quires, leav­ing open the ques­tion of how Pompeo may in­ter­pret Democrats’ de­mands for key in­for­ma­tion about Trump’s han­dling of Ukraine.

Pompeo, speak­ing in Greece, said the State Depart­ment sent a let­ter to Con­gress Fri­day night as its ini­tial re­sponse to the doc­u­ment re­quest and added, “We’ll ob­vi­ously do all the things that we’re re­quired to do by law.” He has al­lowed Democrats to in­ter­view a series of wit­nesses next week. Among them is Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, an­other key fig­ure in the probe.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has strug­gled to come up with a uni­fied re­sponse to the quickly pro­gress­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Democrats have warned that de­fy­ing their de­mands will in it­self be con­sid­ered “ev­i­dence of ob­struc­tion” and a po­ten­tially im­peach­able of­fense.

Pompeo has be­come a key fig­ure in the Democrats’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He was on the line dur­ing the July phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy to in­ves­ti­gate for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his son, Hunter — spark­ing a whistle­blower com­plaint and now the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Pompeo had ini­tially tried to de­lay a hand­ful of cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials from co­op­er­at­ing with the in­quiry and ac­cused Democrats try­ing to “bully” his staffers.

On Satur­day, Pompeo did not back off his de­fense of Trump’s call with Ukraine.

“There has been some sug­ges­tion some­how that it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the United States gov­ern­ment to en­gage in that ac­tiv­ity and I see it just pre­cisely the op­po­site,” he said.

Trump has of­fered a series of con­tra­dic­tory state­ments when it comes to the Democrats’ sub­poena of White House records.

Asked Wed­nes­day whether the White House in­tended to com­ply, Trump told re­porters, “I al­ways co­op­er­ate,” even as he dis­missed the in­quiry as “a hoax.” A day later, how­ever, Trump had a dif­fer­ent an­swer for the same ques­tion, say­ing he would in­stead leave the mat­ter to his lawyers.

“That’s up to them to de­cide,” he said, “But the whole in­ves­ti­ga­tion is crum­bling.”

By Fri­day, how­ever, Trump con­firmed re­ports the White House was pre­par­ing a let­ter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ar­gu­ing that Con­gress can­not un­der­take an im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out first hav­ing a vote to au­tho­rize it. Pelosi has in­sisted the House is well within its rules to con­duct over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion re­gard­less.

It was un­clear Satur­day when or if that let­ter would be sent.

Pompeo, mean­while, made clear that the State Depart­ment had yet to turn over any doc­u­ment, but in­tended to fol­low a proper re­view. And he said he would do so faster than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I re­mem­ber pre­cisely once when I was on that side and we were look­ing for doc­u­ments, I re­mem­ber pre­cisely how long it took for those doc­u­ments to come across,” he said in an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to his ex­pe­ri­ence as a con­gress­man dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2012 at­tack on the U.S. mis­sion in Beng­hazi, Libya.

“We’re go­ing to beat that. We’re go­ing to be more re­spon­sive than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was in the years that pre­ceded this par­tic­u­lar Con­gress,” he said.

A con­gres­sional aide fa­mil­iar with Pompeo’s re­sponse con­firmed that the State Depart­ment had in­deed been in con­tact, even if Pompeo had failed to meet a Fri­day dead­line to pro­duce doc­u­ments re­quired by the sub­poena.

Trump, mean­while, con­tin­ued to seethe Satur­day, de­nounc­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as yet an­other “Witch Hunt!” and “a fraud against the Amer­i­can peo­ple!”

In a series of tweets Satur­day, in­clud­ing sev­eral sent as his pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade fer­ried him back and forth to his Vir­ginia golf course, Trump de­fended his con­duct and lashed out at crit­ics, in­clud­ing a past foil, Sen. Mitt Rom­ney, R-Utah.

“I’m hear­ing that the Great Peo­ple of Utah are con­sid­er­ing their vote for their Pompous Sen­a­tor, Mitt Rom­ney, to be a big mis­take. I agree! He is a fool who is play­ing right into the hands of the Do Noth­ing Democrats!” Trump wrote. He ended his tweet with an ex­tra­or­di­nary call to im­peach a sen­a­tor from his own party.

Yet Rom­ney was joined Satur­day in his crit­i­cism by a sec­ond Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tor, Su­san Collins of Maine, who said “it’s not OK” for a pres­i­dent to en­cour­age a for­eign state to in­ves­ti­gate a po­lit­i­cal ri­val.

AP-Yon­hap

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pompeo de­liv­ers a speech at the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion Cul­tural Cen­ter in Athens, Satur­day.

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