Dems weigh charges of ob­struc­tion

Pom­peo and law­mak­ers tus­sle over wit­nesses and doc­u­ments

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian, Sarah D. Wire and Eli Stokols

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, des­per­ate to un­der­mine a fast-mov­ing im­peach­ment probe, could be adding to his trou­bles.

House Democrats say Trump’s stonewalli­ng and threats to un­mask a whistle­blower could lead to ob­struc­tion charges if ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment are drafted over the pres­i­dent’s re­quest for Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate a po­ten­tial Demo­cratic op­po­nent in next year’s elec­tion.

“Con­gress will stand up to the mas­sive ob­struc­tion of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion if they con­tinue down this course,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a mem­ber of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said Tues­day.

Trump’s al­lies made clear they’re dig­ging in their heels, how­ever, re­sist­ing the Democrats’ de­mands for doc­u­ments

and tes­ti­mony.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said five cur­rent and for­mer State Depart­ment of­fi­cials who dealt with Ukraine would not pro­vide de­po­si­tions to House in­ves­ti­ga­tors as sched­uled be­cause they had “woe­fully in­ad­e­quate” time to pre­pare, and be­cause the re­quest was not made through nor­mal chan­nels.

In a sharply worded three-page let­ter to Rep. Eliot En­gel, chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Pom­peo said the Democrats’ re­quest “can be un­der­stood only as an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date, bully, and treat im­prop­erly” State Depart­ment pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the for­eign ser­vice.

Some Trump sup­port­ers cheered Pom­peo’s re­sponse to the Democrats.

But it also com­pli­cated Pom­peo’s own sit­u­a­tion, com­ing a day after it was dis­closed that he had lis­tened in dur­ing Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy that helped trig­ger the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

On Wed­nes­day, the State Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral is ex­pected to brief con­gres­sional staff from sev­eral House and Se­nate ap­pro­pri­a­tions, over­sight, for­eign af­fairs and in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees on their re­quests for in­for­ma­tion and doc­u­ments on Ukraine, ac­cord­ing to an aide fa­mil­iar with the plan­ning. The in­spec­tor gen­eral acts in­de­pen­dently from Pom­peo.

The com­mit­tees are seek­ing vol­un­tary tes­ti­mony from cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials as the House digs into State Depart­ment ac­tions and Trump’s other calls with for­eign lead­ers that have been shielded.

Kurt Volker, the for­mer U.S. spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Ukraine, is on track to give his closed-door de­po­si­tion Thurs­day. Volker re­signed last week after a whistle­blower com­plaint de­tailed Trump’s in­ter­ac­tions with Ze­len­skiy.

Marie Yo­vanovitch, who was U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine be­fore she was re­called in May, will give her de­po­si­tion Oct. 11.

Democrats re­sponded to Pom­peo’s let­ter, say­ing he should “im­me­di­ately cease in­tim­i­dat­ing (wit­nesses) to pro­tect him­self and the Pres­i­dent.”

“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,” said three House chair­men, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., of the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, En­gel, D-N.Y., of For­eign Af­fairs; and Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., of Over­sight.

In halt­ing any ap­pear­ances by State of­fi­cials, and de­mand­ing that ex­ec­u­tive branch lawyers ac­com­pany them, Pom­peo is un­der­scor­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr’s view of White House author­ity.

When is­su­ing a sep­a­rate sub­poena last week as part of the in­quiry, the chair­men of the three House com­mit­tees made it clear that stonewalli­ng their in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be fought.

It’s un­clear whether Pom­peo will com­ply with the com­mit­tees’ re­quest for doc­u­ments by Fri­day. He had de­clined to com­ply with their pre­vi­ous re­quests for in­for­ma­tion.

Pom­peo, in Italy to meet with the coun­try’s pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter, ig­nored shouted ques­tion about the im­peach­ment in­quiry Tues­day.

Volker played a di­rect role in ar­rang­ing meet­ings be­tween Rudy Gi­u­liani, who is Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, and Ze­len­skiy, the chair­men said.

The State Depart­ment said that Volker has con­firmed that he put a Ze­len­skiy ad­viser in con­tact with Gi­u­liani, at the Ukraine ad­viser’s re­quest.

Gi­u­liani sug­gested he might defy a House sub­poena for doc­u­ments re­gard­ing his meet­ings with Ukrainian of­fi­cials, say­ing it “raises sig­nif­i­cant is­sues con­cern­ing le­git­i­macy and con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal is­sues,” in­clud­ing at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege.

On Tues­day, Gi­u­liani hired for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Jon Sale to rep­re­sent him in the widen­ing in­quiry.

One se­nior Repub­li­can of­fered sup­port for the whistle­blower Tues­day, de­spite the pres­i­dent’s at­tacks.

“This per­son ap­pears to have fol­lowed the whistle­blower pro­tec­tion laws and ought to be heard out and pro­tected,” Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, RIowa, who worked on laws to pro­tect gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who re­port wrong­do­ing, said in a state­ment. “We should al­ways work to re­spect whistle­blow­ers’ re­quests for con­fi­den­tial­ity.”

DREW AN­GERER/GETTY

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said Democrats are try­ing to bully and in­tim­i­date State Depart­ment pro­fes­sion­als.

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