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Pompeo admits he was on Zelenskiy call as ex-diplomats prepare to testify in probe

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus listen to the Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Mary Ann Glendon, as she delivers remarks to the press at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. on July 8, 2019. (State Department photo by Michael Gross)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Scrutiny has intensified on the U.S. State Department in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming he was on a controversial call with the Ukrainian leader, while two former diplomats are set to appear before Congress.

Pompeo, speaking during a news conference on October 2 while traveling in Italy, acknowledged he “was on the phone call,” that Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that spurred the impeachment inquiry against the U.S. leader, who has called the process an attempt at a “coup” by his Democratic Party rivals.

Pompeo gave no further details about the call in response to questions during the news conference with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Rome.

While it is not unprecedented to have a secretary of state listen in on a call between the U.S. president and a foreign leader, Pompeo had previously avoided answering questions about his possible involvement in the conversation.

In the wake of a whistle-blower complaint last week, Democrats are investigating Trump’s request during the July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine.

The unidentified whistle-blower raised concerns that Trump was pressuring the Ukrainian president by threatening to withhold U.S. military aid and soliciting foreign interference in exchange for personal gain.

Biden is one of the main contenders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Republican Trump in the 2020 election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has called the inquiry “the greatest scam in the history of American politics.”

In a social media post on October 1, Trump said that “as I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP.”

Closed-Door Depositions

Pompeo has tried to delay five current and former officials from providing documents and testimony in the inquiry, claiming Democrats were trying to “intimidate” and “bully” State Department officials.

However, Democrats were able to set closed-door depositions with ousted U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Marie Yovanovitch and Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine.

Yovanovitch has agreed to appear before the panels on October 11. The veteran diplomat was abruptly recalled from Kyiv by Trump in May, two months ahead of schedule.

Volker is scheduled to appear before the House committees on October 3. The former special envoy resigned suddenly and without explanation on September 27 after his name was mentioned in the whistle-blower complaint.

Volker resigned when it emerged that he had followed up with Ukrainian officials a day after the Trump-Zelenskiy call.

Trump had abruptly frozen nearly $400 million in military funding to Ukraine ahead of the call.

The funds have since been unlocked and Congress and the State Department have given initial approval to sell Kyiv $39 million worth of anti-tank missiles to help it battle Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine.

The pending sale, requested this summer, is not part of the aid that Trump had withheld.

The United States has been providing military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in 2014.

In the wake of the scrutiny over Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, Democrats have said they are determined to get access to the U.S. president’s calls with other leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin on October 2 said he would not object to the transcripts of his calls with Trump being published and that he always assumes his words could potentially be made public whenever he speaks.

Critics have expressed concerns that Trump secretly made concessions to the Russian leader, with whom he has made clear he is seeking to improve relations despite U.S. intelligence services’ conclusions that Moscow interfered with the 2016 presidential election to aid Trump.