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House Democrats threaten White House with subpoena for Ukraine documents

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By Rebecca Shabad  with NBC News Politics
House Democrats threaten White House with subpoena for Ukraine documents

WASHINGTON — House Democrats announced Wednesday that they would subpoena White House officials by the end of the week if their demands for documents related to the investigation into President Donald Trump's alleged efforts to push Ukraine to probe Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden were not met.

"I do not take this step lightly," House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a letter to his panel notifying them that he would issue the subpoena Friday on behalf of his panel, along with the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, if the White House did not comply with the request for relevant materials. "Over the past several weeks, the Committees tried several times to obtain voluntary compliance with our requests for documents, but the White House has refused to engage with — or even respond to — the Committees."

The latest move came amid an escalating impeachment battle, with lawmakers rolling out a wave of planned hearings and potential subpoenas, all met with fierce resistance from White House and administration officials.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, both California Democrats, planned to speak to reporters Wednesday morning despite the congressional recess, ahead of a closed-door Capitol Hill briefing with the State Department's inspector general that was described as "urgent."

At some point Wednesday, the State Department's inspector general, Steve Linick, is expected to hold a bipartisan, bicameral briefing with staff from House and Senate committees that cover foreign relations, oversight issues and appropriations. It's possible lawmakers could attend, but the vast majority of them are at home in their districts this week.

Multiple sources confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday that the inspector general's office reached out to the congressional committees with what they described as an "urgent request" to brief staff about documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.

The request came on the heels of fresh executive branch resistance to congressional investigators, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday portraying himself as a defender of State Department officials against Hill bullying.

"I have also been made aware that Committee staff has been sending intimidating communications to career Department professionals, who have specifically asked for Committee communications to be channeled through the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, as is customary," he wrote in a Tuesday letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. "Let me be clear: I will not tolerate such tactics, and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside at the Department of State."

In the wake of Pompeo's pushback, a deposition that was expected to take place before two congressional panels Wednesday with former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was delayed by a week.

The former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who resigned his post last week, however, will testify before Congress on Thursday, as originally scheduled.

At Pelosi's direction, Democrats have focused their impeachment inquiry on the whistleblower's complaint that was made public last week regarding the phone call President Donald Trump had with his Ukrainian counterpart over the summer.

Pompeo admitted Wednesday morning — after it had been reported by multiple news outlets — that he was on that July phone call.

Meanwhile, Trump accused Democrats of launching a coup against him through their efforts to potentially impeach him.

"As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP," he tweeted.