House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump have ordered Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, to hand over documents that could shed light on whether the US president improperly pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to help his 2020 re-election bid.
The chairmen of three House of Representatives committees asked Mr Pompeo to hand over relevant material by October 4.
They have also scheduled depositions in the next two weeks from five state department officials who may have been involved in the events at the centre of the inquiry, including Marie Yovanovitch, who left the role of US ambassador to Ukraine in May, and Kurt Volker, the top US envoy for Ukraine.
The requests are the first to go out from House Democrats in impeachment proceedings launched on Wednesday, following allegations in a whistleblower complaint that said the US president pushed Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary.
“The committees are conducting this investigation in an expeditious, co-ordinated manner,” wrote the chairmen of the House’s foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Nancy Pelosi raised the alarm over reports that Mr Trump told US officials at the UN that the unidentified whistleblower was similar to a spy and that “in the old days” spies were dealt with differently, in an apparent reference to execution, a legal punishment for treason.
Referring to the president’s comments, Ms Pelosi told MSNBC: “It is really sad.”
Congress published the whistleblower’s complaint on Thursday, minutes before the House intelligence committee heard testimony from Joseph Maguire, the acting head of the US intelligence community, who had earlier blocked sharing the complaint with Congress.
The complaint alleged, among other things, that White House officials used a classified storage system to hide the transcript of a call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky, in which the US president asked for an investigation into Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of a natural gas company in the country. The call was placed just days after the White House put Congressionally-approved aid to Ukraine on hold.
A senior administration official confirmed on Friday that the transcript had been stored in a special classified system. “National Security Council lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately,” the official said.
The whistleblower claimed to have been told that the classified storage system had been used on other occasions for political reasons, too.
Until this week, the House speaker had been reticent to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump, but she said that the complaint showed evidence of a “cover-up”.
“The clarity of the president’s actions is compelling and gave us no choice but to move forward,” she added on Friday. “The president of the United States used taxpayer dollars to shake down the leader of another country for his own political gain. The rest of it is ancillary.”
Ms Pelosi said the impeachment inquiry was “no cause for any joy”, adding: “This is a very sad time for our country . . . This is as serious as it gets when it comes to protecting the constitution of the United States.”