Washington (CNN)Armed with the power to set the agenda and, if needed, issue subpoenas, House Democrats plan to ramp up the pressure on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following the midterm elections as they seek substantive answers related to the Trump administration’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.
“If he was treated the way we feel like we are being treated, he would rant and rave,” New York Democrat and the likely incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel told CNN.
“He came to our committee once, stayed for about four hours … several months later, he appeared before the Senate but did not appear before the House. That was a snub any way you want to look at it,” he said.
Pompeo said “all the right things” during his first, and only, appearance before the committee in May, according to Engel, but the State Department as a whole has been slow to respond and dismissive of issues lawmakers have raised in numerous letters on various topics since, a Congressional aide told CNN.
While President Donald Trump has defiantly vowed to adopt a “warlike posture” should he face a barrage of investigations from House Democrats, Pompeo can be sure to expect a request to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the near future, according to Engel, who said he plans to make it very clear that he expects the top US diplomat to work with lawmakers rather than keeping them in the dark.
“I’m hoping that perhaps, because he was member of the House, that he realizes what his own frustrations were from time to time and that he will understand that we don’t want to be stonewalled, Engel said, adding that if Pompeo is resistant then lawmakers will “find other ways to get to the truth.”
“Since he was a House member, I would think he would understand or should understand, the fact that we are … entitled to get the truth,” he said. “I hope the Republicans on our committee would be just as vocal as we would be about being treated as a co-equal branch of government and not subservient to the White House.”
Engel told CNN that he plans to immediately begin probing a laundry list of issues including the White House’s dealings with Russia, Trump’s foreign business dealings and claims of unethical behavior within the State Department.
The priorities for Democrats on the Foreign Affairs committee fall into two buckets, according to a Democratic Congressional aide: One being oversight of relevant agencies within the committees’ jurisdiction and the other investigating “the President’s conflicts of interests, including possible foreign entanglements in his business dealings.
“We are going to get a lot more transparency on the President’s conflicts of interests … where he is involved, invested. Our question: Have any personal interests had any effect on foreign policy making?” the aide said.
Specifically, Democrats want answers related to administration’s policy decisions on Russia, including details as to what was discussed during Trump’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and additional information on Moscow’s interference in US elections.
Lawmakers want to determine an appropriate response to Russian election interference and establish a deterrent to prevent meddling going forward, the aide told CNN.
They plan to use the majority to investigate issues like claims of a politically motivated purge at the State Department, according to the aide.
The aide told CNN that it would “be an error to jump headlong” and issue subpoenas but the new chairman would consider whatever option he needs to in order to get the information needed.
The Trump administration’s lack of transparency on the North Korea situation has also been a major cause of frustration for Democrats on the committee who feel they have been “kept out of the loop” in a process that should involve Congress, according to the aide.
Getting information related to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is also a priority for both US lawmakers who want to know what actually happened, who is responsible and what drove the administration’s response or lack of there of.
Foreign diplomats also expect Congress to return with Democrats having renewed energy to hit the administration hard on issues that also matter greatly to US allies and where there has been concern that there will be foot-dragging, including on a response to Khashoggi’s murder and Russian sanctions, two senior diplomatic sources told CNN.
“This is a promising sign that House Democrats will speak with a stronger voice, meaning much stronger pressure on the administration to act on things like Khashoggi. We look forward to it,” one senior diplomatic source said.
Still, it remains to be seen how Pompeo will respond.
During a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, he clashed with both Republicans and Democrats on several occasions — refusing to provide substantive details about Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki and the state of talks with North Korea following the President’s sitdown with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Pompeo ardently defended the administration’s policies throughout the three-hour long hearing but would not provide a clear answer to questions about the President’s conversation with Putin nor disclose what commitments on denuclearization Kim made to Trump during their summit.
The State Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on whether he will comply with any future request to testify before the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Even if he does make an appearance on Capitol Hill, Engel admits that he does not have a “magic wand” that can compel the Secretary of State to cooperate, but said he does plan to make his expectations very clear.
“My attitude is going to be, we are going to be reasonable, ask for reasonable things and we are going to hope we are treated in a reasonable fashion. If we are, I think that there will be progress made, and I don’t shy away from that. But if he doesn’t we are not going to just accept it,” Engel told CNN.
“Respect is a two-way street,” he said.