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State Department Inspector General Asks For Congressional Meeting

NOEL KING, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked briefly to reporters this morning. He continued to challenge Congress on its investigation into the July phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. During that call, you'll remember President Trump asked for dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden. Now, here is Mike Pompeo speaking today.

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MIKE POMPEO: We won't tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees. That's unacceptable, and it's not something that I'm going to permit to happen. As for was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call.

KING: OK, if you didn't catch that, Pompeo said, I was on the phone call. That's the first time he's publicly admitted that. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following all of this closely. She's on the line now. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: How big a deal is Pompeo's admission?

KELEMEN: Well, it comes at this time when he's been blasting the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry. He accuses lawmakers, as you heard there, of trying to intimidate and bully State Department officials, who have been called in for depositions about the Trump administration's relations with Ukraine. Here's how he put it during the news conference in Italy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: They contacted State Department employees directly, told them not to contact legal counsel at the State Department.

KELEMEN: And he says that raises concerns about the separation of powers. Now, those House committee leaders accused Pompeo of trying to stonewall, and they say he has an obvious conflict of interest because he listened in on that July phone call when, as you said, Trump asked Ukraine's new president to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son and other matters of personal interest to Trump.

KING: We expect this story to keep developing throughout the course of today, in part because the State Department's inspector general has asked for an urgent meeting with key congressional committees on Ukraine today. How unusual is an urgent briefing between State's inspector general and Congress?

KELEMEN: Very unusual. And, you know - and it's especially a big focus now because the State Department is beginning to take center stage in this impeachment inquiry. We don't know much about what he's bringing to the table, the inspector general, only that these documents relate to Ukraine and that they are from the State Department's legal adviser's office, which is interesting given that Secretary Pompeo was saying that the employees who are called in for depositions couldn't have State Department lawyers with them.

KING: OK. He will give something to Congress, the inspector general for the State Department, we just don't know what yet. Let me ask you about the depositions that House committees have scheduled as part of the inquiry. Pompeo and House Democrats openly disagreeing about this - it's gotten to the point where one of the depositions that was supposed to happen behind closed doors has been postponed. What is each side alleging here?

KELEMEN: Well, each side is alleging, ironically, that this is - that they're bullying each other...

KING: OK.

KELEMEN: But, you know, in the end, we are going to hear - or at least the committees will hear because these are closed door depositions - tomorrow from Kurt Volker, who was the U.S. special representative for Ukraine. He's going to be telling his side of the story. He was working on peace process but also got involved in helping facilitate contacts between President Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the new Ukrainian government. Another key figure here is going to be the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She was due on the Hill today. That is now expected on October 11. So these committees are pursuing, and we'll see how much Pompeo will be cooperating.

KING: Yovanovitch, of course, the deposition that was delayed. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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