The House Committee on Foreign Affairs announced Friday that it was taking a step towards contempt proceedings for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his refusal to comply with its subpoena for various Ukraine-related documents that the State Department has already turned over to GOP senators.
The announcement did not set a date for when specifically it would take up a measure holding Pompeo in contempt, but it said that work on such a resolution is beginning.
In a statement, Chairman Eliot Engel accused Pompeo of being willing to “bolster a Senate Republican-led smear against the President’s political rivals” and noted “his speech to the RNC” this week “defied his own guidance and possibly the law.”
Pompeo has “demonstrated alarming disregard for the laws and rules governing his own conduct and for the tools the constitution provides to prevent government corruption,” Engel said.
Friday’s announcement came after the State Department sent the committee a letter on Thursday informing it that it would not comply with the subpoena because it was “premature,” while suggesting that the request violated “the Separation of Powers doctrine.”
Engel issued a subpoena to Pompeo last month for documents that State had provided to Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
The two GOP lawmakers have been investigating long-discredited allegations that Biden abused his authority to pressure the Ukrainian government into backing off of an investigation into his son.
The Johnson-Grassley probe has come under fire for allegedly serving as a sieve for Russian disinformation. Johnson has confirmed that he took information from Andrii Telizhenko, a one-time staffer at Ukraine’s embassy in Washington who has spent much of the past four years peddling damaging stories about Democratic Party politicians.
The senators have asked — and received — documents from the State Department regarding the allegations, as the same agency refused to provide the same information to Engel.
Director of National Intelligence William Evanina alluded to the probe in a statement earlier this month, saying that foreign actors were targeting Congress. Evanina named one Ukrainian MP who has propagated supposed recordings of Biden and the Ukrainian president from his time in office and said the MP was acting in the interests of Russian intelligence.
Johnson himself has said that his probe will “certainly” help Trump win re-election. He has also complained about slow responses from some government agencies to his own records demands, including the FBI.
“You’d think with a Republican president, they’d be more responsive to the Republican head of a Senate committee,” Johnson said.
In the Thursday letter to the House committee, the State Department’s congressional liaison Ryan M. Kaldahl denied that the Department was “politicizing its responses to Congressional oversight requests.”
Kaldahl pushed back on the allegation that the Department was participating in a smear job by pointing to the ostensible explanation the GOP senators gave for their own requests to the State Department in Nov. 2019 (around the time the Trump impeachment push was heating up). The senators claimed that they were looking at actions the “Obama administration took to ensure that policy decisions relating to Ukraine and Burisma were not improperly influenced by the employment and financial interests of family members.”
The State Department letter then, rather trollishly, suggested the House committee would get the documents it was seeking if it expressed that they were for an inquiry with similar goals as the GOP Senate review.
“If you can confirm by letter that the Committee is, in fact, substantively investigating identical or very similar corruption issues involving Ukraine and corrupt influence related to U.S. foreign policy, the Department is ready to commence production of documents responsive to such a request,” the letter said.
Asked by TPM for a response to Engel’s announcement, a State Department spokesperson stressed that the Department would turnover the docs to the committee once Engel sends “a letter explaining what foreign policy issue he is investigating that requires these documents.”
“This press release is political theatrics and is an unfortunate waste of taxpayer resources,” the spokesperson said.
Engel, in his announcement Friday, said that this suggestion further showed that Pompeo was working to spread the very disinformation the U.S. intelligence community had warned against.
“I want no part of it,” Engel said. “Under no circumstances will I amplify Putin’s debunked conspiracy theories or lend them credence. And I won’t stand by and see the Committee or the House treated with such disdain by anyone.”
Johnson and Grassley have also taken their probe in a less-publicized, but no-less-bogus direction: the so-called “unmasking” of Michael Flynn during the transition from Obama to Trump.
As reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election steamed in, a few high-ranking Obama administration officials asked for the identity of an unnamed American citizen to be revealed in intelligence reports about the meddling — a right granted to senior White House officials.
That person turned out to be Flynn. Since then, Republicans have contended that Obama officials somehow knew what they were asking for, and allege that it was part of a grand scheme to sabotage the fledgling Trump presidency.
The State Department has also reportedly provided the Republicans with documents regarding those allegations as well.
This post has been updated.
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