US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday declared that House Democrats are trying to "intimidate, bully and treat improperly" five current and former career officials in demanding depositions providing Ukraine matter.
Pompeo said in a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as part of the chamber's impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, that the requested dates for the officials to voluntarily appear are "not feasible."
"I am concerned with aspects of your request," Pompeo wrote to Republican Eliot Engel, D-NY, chairman of the panel. "I will not tolerate such tactics, and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals."
In issuing a separate subpoena last week as part of the inquiry, the chairmen of three House committees made it clear that stonewalling their investigation would be considered obstruction of Congress in its investigation.
The panels are seeking documents from the State Department and voluntary testimony from the current and former officials.
"Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry," wrote Engel and the other chairmen, Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, and Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee.
The chairmen in their letter were seeking testimony for former State Department officials over the next two weeks, including the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, and former special envoy Kurt Volker.
Pompeo's push-back came after Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani suggested he might not comply with a subpoena issued on Monday by the three committees.
They want the former New York mayor to produce documents related to his efforts on Trump's behalf to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to provide dirt on Trump's potential 2020 election rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
Giuliani alleged that the heads of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees had "prejudged" the case.
It's unclear whether Pompeo will comply with the committee's request for documents by Friday.
Pompeo, travelling in Italy to meet with the country's president and prime minister, ignored shouted questions about the impeachment inquiry.
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry of Trump after a whistleblower's disclosure of a July phone call with the Ukraine president in which he sought help in investigating Democratic rival Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump sought Australia's help in discrediting Russia probe
Meanwhile, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitting on Tuesday that he agreed to help Trump after the latter asked Australia to "assist" in discrediting a Russia investigation that has clouded his presidency.
An Australian government spokesperson confirmed Trump asked Morrison to investigate issues raised in Robert Mueller's probe –– which concluded that Russia tried to swing the 2016 election in the Republican's favour.
The official said Australia "has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation".
"The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President."
The revelation will fuel allegations Trump is using the power of the Oval Office and risking long-standing relationships with allies for his own political ends.