U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland implicated numerous senior officials and President Donald Trump in a plan to extort Ukraine: No White House meeting until the Ukrainians announced an investigation into nonexistent dirt on former vice president Joe Biden. (The announcement was vital for political purposes; Trump could have cared less if any corruption was going on.) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to Sondland, played a key role in the plot and in obstruction of Congress. As such, Pompeo needs to appear as a witness or face impeachment himself.
Sondland made clear that he was no rogue actor in the Ukraine plot, something we already knew from other witnesses and from the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Trump specifically mentions the Bidens, Burisma and the 2016 election (a reference to the repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered with the election). Pompeo was on that call and therefore understood the link between the White House visit and Trump's political demands.
Here is what else we know about Pompeo's involvement:
- A text from William Taylor dated July 10 reflected that "S" (Secretary Pompeo) directed him to talk to Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine.
- In an email dated July 19 sent to Pompeo and a raft of senior officials, Sondland said he had briefed Zelensky for the July 25 call and needed to "turn over every stone," a reference to the Burisma and 2016 investigations, the same investigations Trump spoke about on the July 25 call, adding Biden's name.
- Sondland on Aug. 11 sent an email to Pompeo's counselor and a top aide, Lisa Kenna, stating he had helped draft a statement that would guarantee the "deliverables" need to have a big news conference; Kenna said she would pass it on to Pompeo, which in the absence of his testimony we must assume he read.
- On Aug. 22, Sondland emailed Pompeo directly, talking about a way to alleviate the "logjam" (the aid holdup). Pompeo said yes. Pompeo approved the plan and, not unsurprisingly, "Sondland testified that because Pompeo listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, he would know that the 'issues of importance to Potus' were the investigations into 2016 and Burisma."
The Washington Post further summarizes:
"Emails from Aug. 11 and Aug. 22 show not only that Sondland was updating Pompeo on his activities but that the secretary was approving the plans to get Zelenksy to commit to the politically charged investigations.
"In the Aug. 22 email, Sondland said he hoped that Zelensky could meet Trump in Warsaw, and that he would encourage Zelensky 'to look him in the eye' and tell him that by mid-September he 'should be able to move forward and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus and the US.'
" 'Hopefully that will break the logjam,' he added. ... Sondland said he was referring to the 2016 and Burisma investigations -- exactly what he had been referencing earlier that month, on Aug. 9, when he told then-Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker over texts that Trump 'really wants the deliverable.' "
Pompeo is complicit. Moreover, he now refuses to testify or produce documents, which likely will complete the picture of what he knew and when he knew it. He is obstructing Congress's investigation, and even refusing to recuse himself from the matter.
Former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller tells me: "The bill of particulars that have emerged about Pompeo's involvement are incredibly damning. At the minimum, he knew about the scheme and did nothing to stop it while allowing the president to attack and run roughshod over his people." Miller continues, "He should be up on the Hill testifying tomorrow, but we know he won't because if he had to start telling the truth, rather than bullying and blowing off reporters, his answers would be damning to himself and the president."
Former prosecutor Joyce White Vance agrees. "Sondland puts Pompeo right in the middle of Trump's bribery scheme," she says. "And, Pompeo, who listened in on the July 25 call, knew what was at stake -- Trump was forcing Zelensky to announce an investigation into the Bidens that was politically valuable to Trump's 2020 campaign." She makes a key point: "Pompeo, top of his class at West Point and a graduate of Harvard Law, knew it was wrong. But he hasn't had the courage to come forward with the bravery of a [Marie] Yovanovitch or a [Lt. Col. Alexander] Vindman."
"The Sondland testimony puts Pompeo (as well as Trump, of course) squarely inside impeachment territory -- and, under a normal Justice Department, in indictment territory as well," says constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. "There is no [Office of Legal Counsel] memo suggesting that a sitting secretary of state is immune from indictment and prosecution, and this one was deeply engaged, if Sondland is to be believed, in a conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion, to violate federal election law against foreign interference, and to obstruct justice, including obstructing congressional investigations." (He also notes that Energy Secretary Rick Perry "is implicated as well. And [Giuliani] is up to his eyebrows in indictable federal felonies.")
The House Intelligence Committee should make a criminal referral, subpoena Pompeo for testimony and proceed with impeachment proceedings if he doesn't comply. The message to future secretaries of state must be that they must no participate in illegal schemes and that their oath is to the Constitution, not a president.