U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday defended the Trump administration's approach to Ukraine that is at the center of an impeachment inquiry. He rejected allegations it was at best inappropriate or at worst an illegal abuse of power for which Congress should remove President Donald Trump from office.
Pompeo maintained that the investigation the United States sought from Ukraine's government involved possible interference from Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He did not speak to Trump's stated desire for Ukraine to specifically investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's and his son Hunter, which impeachment investigators are focused on since a whistleblower complaint surfaced last month.
Pompeo criticized the impeachment inquiry as “clearly political” and said the actions of the State Department were aimed solely at improving relations with the new government of Ukraine that took office this spring. He also said the work of a former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, was based on the direction of the president to do just that.
Volker was interviewed by congressional investigators on Thursday and turned over text messages between himself and other officials. Those messages detailed their push to get Ukraine to agree to investigations into an energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat, and 2016 election interference. In exchange, American officials dangled the offer of a meeting with Trump in Washington for Ukraine's new president.
“The State Department was very focused, at the direction of the president, on creating space where we could ultimately deliver a good relationship with this government,” Pompeo said. “Ambassador Volker worked diligently to create that opportunity.”
Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, has warned about the dangers of Moscow's intrusions in the American political system.
Pompeo said the administration had an obligation to investigate alleged election interference and ask foreign governments for assistance if needed.
“The administration was incredibly focused on making sure that we worked with Ukraine in a way that was appropriate. It is not only appropriate, it is our duty if we think there was interference in the election of 2016,” he said. “I think everyone recognizes that governments have an obligation, indeed a duty, to ensure that elections happen with integrity, without interference.”
In Trump's July telephone call with Ukraine's president, Trump referred to a discredited conspiracy theory that tries to cast doubt on Russia's role in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee and alleges that Ukraine had spread disinformation during the U.S. election.
Separately, on impeachment, Pompeo said the State Department had responded to a congressional subpoena for him to produce Ukraine-related documents. He did not say what that response was.
He had faced a Friday deadline to hand over the documents, but he suggested that he had not and would instead move to comply with the subpoena at his own pace.