(CNSNews.com) – The ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee accused its Democrat leaders Wednesday night of abdicating their responsibility by allowing Rep. Adam Schiff’s House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to take the lead in the party’s presidential impeachment probe.
The subject matter, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), deals with the conduct of U.S. relations with Ukraine and U.S. security assistance to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression.
Those issues fall squarely within the jurisdiction of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) – and not the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee, he wrote.
Schiff, said McCaul, “lacks the jurisdiction to investigate the Department of State’s conduct of United States foreign policy toward Ukraine. That prerogative belongs to our [HFAC] members.”
McCaul objected strenuously to the ground rules being laid down by Schiff’s committee for Thursday’s scheduled interview with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
Not only will Volker be questioned “solely” by Intelligence Committee staff, but only one Republican staffer from the Foreign Affairs Committee will be allowed to attend, while HFAC Democrats will be allowed two staffers, McCaul wrote.
“These constraints on committee and Republican participation are unacceptable and at odds with House Rules and general fairness,” he said.
“Impeaching the President of the United States is a grave and serious matter for the American people, and they expect fairness and due process by their representatives in establishing the facts. We demand equal representation and participation in this inquiry, there is too much at stake for America and Congress.”
House Democratic leaders are pursuing an impeachment investigation arising from a July 25 phone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump denies accusations that he abused his position by linking support for Ukraine to Zelensky’s cooperation in investigating corruption claims involving Hunter Biden, the son of 2020 Democratic presidential contender and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Zelensky himself has repeatedly denied having come under any pressure from Trump.
Row with Pompeo
As part of the Democrats’ investigation, Engel, Schiff and House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) jointly scheduled depositions with five current and former State Department officials, including Volker, who resigned abruptly last week.
(The other four are former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled last May and who is scheduled to be deposed next week; Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent; Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland; and State Department Counselor, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl.)
That move ignited a row with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accused the committee chairmen of “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly” State Department professionals, raising among other concerns the fact the witnesses were not permitted to have executive branch lawyers accompany them when being deposed.
Pompeo has now acknowledged that he was himself on the Trump-Zelensky phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry, and Engel, Schiff, and Cummings accused him of “intimidating” State Department witnesses “in order to protect himself and the President.”
Engel, Schiff, and Cummings had jointly summoned the five witnesses to testify, and it is not clear why the Intelligence Committee alone is taking the lead in the depositions.
In his letter to Engel, McCaul wanted to know why HFAC was abdicating its jurisdiction, arguing that doing so would damage its credibility.
“According to House Rule X, our committee is responsible for ‘Relations of the United States with foreign nations generally,’” he said. “This is not the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee.”
In their Sept. 27 letter to Pompeo scheduling the depositions, the three chairman referred to “the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry.”
But McCaul challenged the language used, saying that it will be a “House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry” only if and when the House debates on and votes to pass a resolution setting up or authorizing a body to undertake official impeachment inquiries.
Until such time, he said, individual congressional committees – with the exception of the Oversight Committee – are only empowered to conduct oversight or investigations that relate to their area of jurisdiction.
Engel appeared on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Wednesday evening and referred to Volker’s deposition on Thursday, but said nothing about the Intelligence Committee leading the effort or being solely the one to question the witness.
“We sent notices to five people – this is the Foreign Affairs Committee, because we have the State Department under our jurisdiction – and we asked them to come in, and got back a scathing letter from Mr. Pompeo basically saying that we should stop immediately, and he was very uncooperative.”
Engel also commented on how well Democrats and Republicans on his committee work together.
“On the Foreign Affairs Committee, I try to run my committee in the most bipartisan of ways. It doesn’t mean we don’t have any differences, but we respect one another. The president is showing that he respects nobody, and that’s really a shame.”