Pompeo must recuse himself in matters related to Ukraine probe, Democrats say
By DANIEL FLATLEY | Bloomberg News | Published: November 23, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should recuse himself from State Department matters related to the Ukraine scandal underpinning the House impeachment inquiry, according to Senate Democrats who argue that the probe's witnesses directly implicated Pompeo.
In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee say testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Pompeo's participation in the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine's leader show that the secretary was "fully aware" of Trump's efforts to withhold security aid to Ukraine for his own personal political purposes.
"You have continued to impede the House impeachment inquiry, including by refusing to produce any State Department records on the Trump-Ukraine scandal – including those that may shed further light on your own complicity," the letter says. "As Ambassador Sondland testified, the department also refused to provide him access to his own materials as he prepared to testify."
The letter, which was signed by all 10 Democrats on the committee, said that these efforts indicate that Pompeo is blocking Congress from getting a complete picture of the issue due to concerns it would prove to be politically damaging to the secretary and the president.
"The only legitimate option is for you to recuse and delegate the department's response to the Trump-Ukraine scandal to a senior career department official," the letter says. "We urge you to do so immediately."
Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said in a public hearing Wednesday that Pompeo was aware of the conditions that Trump and his allies were placing on a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and almost $400 million in security assistance.
Sondland also said his memory of events would have been bolstered by communication records and documents that the State Department refused to release.
Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., used his opening statement in Thursday's hearing to warn Trump and Pompeo that if they continue to ignore subpoenas and document requests, "they do so at their own peril." He said the administration's refusal to cooperate with the probe could be the foundation of an article of impeachment.
Pompeo, speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, declined to recuse himself from decisions on releasing documents and refused to comment on Sondland's allegations about his involvement in the Ukraine dealings.
"I didn't see a single thing today, I was working," Pompeo told a reporter who asked. "Sounds like you might not have been."
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus later said in a statement that Sondland "never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the president was linking aid to investigations of political opponents. Any suggestion to the contrary is flat-out false."
Recusing himself from any State Department responsibilities, especially in an area that has taken on intense political importance, could be perilous for the Trump appointee. The president spent months publicly ridiculing – and eventually dismissed – former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from Russian issues, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Nick Wadhams contributed to this report.
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