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House Democrats seek to hold Pompeo in contempt

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said the secretary of state has "demonstrated alarming disregard for the laws and rules governing his own conduct."
Image: , Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, on Aug. 24, 2020.Debbie Hill / AP

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced Friday that he'll seek to have Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held in contempt for ignoring congressional demands that he turn over State Department documents.

“From Mr. Pompeo’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry to his willingness to bolster a Senate Republican-led smear against the president’s political rivals to his speech to the RNC which defied his own guidance and possibly the law, he has demonstrated alarming disregard for the laws and rules governing his own conduct and for the tools the constitution provides to prevent government corruption," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

Pompeo was widely criticized by ethicists and current and former diplomats this week for addressing the Republican National Convention in a taped address from Jerusalem. Having the country's top diplomat address the convention at all was unprecedented, and his use of Jerusalem as a backdrop while on an official visit to Israel might have violated State Department policies and possibly the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits government employees from political activity on the job or in their official capacities.

The State Department has defended Pompeo's RNC appearance, saying it was done on his own personal time.

Engel said Pompeo "seems to think the office he holds, the department he runs, the personnel he oversees, and the taxpayer dollars that pay for all of it are there for his personal and political benefit."

In his statement announcing that the committee would begin work on a resolution to hold Pompeo in contempt, Engel focused mainly on the secretary's stonewalling of documents that the committee has subpoenaed.

“I gave Mr. Pompeo ample opportunity to fulfill my request for documents, which I first made more than three months ago. These documents were already produced to the Senate," which is under Republican control, Engel said.

In a letter to Engel on Thursday, the department said it would turn over some of the documents if the House had a similar investigation to the one the Senate was conducting into corruption in Ukraine and the country's alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

In a statement Friday, a spokesperson for the State Department said the agency is only asking for a letter "explaining what foreign policy issue" Engel is investigating that requires the documents.

"Once this letter is received, the department will produce the documents," the spokesperson said, dismissing Engel's contempt threat "political theatrics" and " an unfortunate waste of taxpayer resources."

President Donald Trump was impeached by the House for abuse of power for trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, a charge Trump was acquitted of in the Senate. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence earlier this month said Russia — which U.S. intelligence agencies said did interfere in the 2016 election — has been pushing the corruption narrative in an effort to hurt Biden's presidential bid.

“I want no part of it. Under no circumstances will I amplify Putin’s debunked conspiracy theories or lend them credence," Engel said. "And I won’t stand by and see the Committee or the House treated with such disdain by anyone.”

Josh Lederman contributed.