Pompeo Threatened with House Subpoena Over Middle East Testimony

(Bloomberg) -- The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee threatened to subpoena Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to testify about the administration’s policy in Iran, Iraq and the Middle East following the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

The warning comes as Democrats continue to demand clarity over why Qassem Soleimani -- the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force -- was targeted Jan. 3 in an attack they say escalated tensions in the Middle East and put U.S. forces at risk of counterattacks from Iran and its proxies in the region.

The hearing will give Pompeo a chance to present the administration’s “justification -- both legal and policy -- underpinning its use of military force against Qassem Soleimani, Shia militas, and other targets in Iraq and Iran,” according to the letter sent by Democratic Chairman Eliot Engel of New York.

Both the House and the Senate are considering legislation to block Trump from carrying out such strikes without congressional authorizations. The new hearing with Pompeo is scheduled for Jan. 29, according to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

In addition to sparking a Iranian missile barrage on a U.S. base in Iraq, Soleimani’s killing also prompted Iraq’s parliament to call for the departure of U.S. forces, a move that risks undermining the fight against Islamic State. Pompeo responded to Iraq’s demand by saying America would review its force posture in the country, but wouldn’t pull out. He says that Iraqi leaders are privately urging the U.S. to remain.

Engel held a hearing this week during which Democrats demanded the White House provide its justification for the drone strike after a series of mixed messages. Initially, officials said Soleimani was planning an attack that was “days away,” according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. But the president and his top aides have declined to spell out, in public or private, what the threat was.

Engel criticized Pompeo for not taking part in the Jan. 14 hearing, but the top U.S. diplomat was in California on a previously scheduled trip, giving policy speeches, meeting technology executives and consulting with Japanese and South Korean diplomats.

Democrats in Congress are also upset about the postponement of an additional classified briefing on the strike. State Department officials called it off a day before it was set to take place, citing scheduling conflicts.

Engel said he would “consider very strongly” issuing a subpoena to compel Pompeo to appear at the next hearing later this month.

State Department officials declined to comment when asked whether the secretary would appear, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he has a trip scheduled the week of the hearing.

“I consider your testimony to be of extremely high importance and am prepared to use all legal means to ensure your attendance,” Engel wrote. “I trust, however, that this will not be necessary.”

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