Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
Published 1: 17 p.m. ET Nov. 26, 2019 | Updated 11: 19 a.m. ET Nov. 27, 2019
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to answer questions Tuesday about two phone calls he had with Rudy Giuliani, a central player in the Ukraine scandal and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
The State Department released emails late Friday night showing that Pompeo and Giuliani spoke by phone in late March, as Giuliani was ramping up pressure on Ukrainian officials to open two investigations that would benefit Trump politically. The documents, turned over after a court ordered the State Department to comply with a freedom of information request, do not reveal the subject or context of the two Pompeo-Giuliani conversations.
“I don’t have much to say with respect to the Ukraine investigation,” Pompeo said when asked during a news conference Tuesday about his conversations with Giuliani.
Pompeo’s refusal to talk about his role in the Ukraine pressure campaign – which is now the subject of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions – comes after other witnesses testified that he knew about and approved of Trump and Giuliani’s Ukraine campaign.
During the now-famous July 25 phone call, Trump personally asked Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential race, and to probe a debunked conspiracy theory alleging Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Pompeo has acknowledged that he listened in on that phone call, and he has defended Trump’s actions as “wholly appropriate.” That July 25 conversation is now at the heart of the House Democrats’ impeachment probe into allegations that the president solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, testified to the House Intelligence Committee last week that Pompeo was “in the loop” on the Ukrainian effort. Sondland described that as a clear “quid pro quo” and said Pompeo was kept apprised of the effort.
On Tuesday, Pompeo was specifically asked if he and Giuliani discussed the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who Giuliani had targeted for ouster. Critics say Yovanovictch’s anti-corruption work in Ukraine was an impediment to Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Pompeo cut Yovanovitch’s tenure in Ukraine short, but he has never publicly explained why.
Pompeo also refused on Tuesday to knock down a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server in 2016. Last week, Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, said that was a “fictional narrative” propagated by the Kremlin to distract from Moscow’s complicity in trying to sway the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Pompeo was asked whether he believes the U.S. or Ukraine should investigate the GOP assertion that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the DNC’s emails.
Pompeo, who served as Trump’s CIA director before becoming his chief diplomat, did not offer any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election. But he said “any time there is information that any country has messed with American elections we not only have a right but a duty” to investigate that.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for the hacking scheme, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as part of the Kremlin’s effort to undermine the 2016 election. That indictment said the Russians “engaged in a sustained effort” to penetrate the most sensitive repositories of information held by the Democratic Party.
Pompeo did not mention Russia on Friday, even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed an extensive and sophisticated campaign to interfere with the 2016 election. He said when he was CIA director, he saw evidence that “many countries” tried to sway the U.S. election.
“Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016,” Hill told lawmakers last week.
Pompeo also sidestepped a question about Trump’s tweet, posted on Tuesday morning, suggesting he would “love to have Mike Pompeo” and other top administration officials testify before the House impeachment inquiry but was barring them to protect future presidents’ prerogatives.
“When the time is right, all good things happen,” Pompeo responded when asked if he was considering testifying about his role in the matter.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson
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