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House chairman: Pompeo won’t testify at Iran hearing Tuesday

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will not testify at a House committee hearing on Iran on Tuesday, the committee’s chairman announced Monday.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that Secretary Pompeo will not appear before the committee tomorrow,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pompeo’s decision not to testify.

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Pompeo is on a trip to California until Wednesday, according to a Thursday statement from the State Department.

Pompeo’s rejection of the committee’s invitation comes as questions continue to swirl about the intelligence that led to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Killing Soleimani brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war, though both sides have appeared to step back after an Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops resulted in no casualties.

Administration officials have had shifting explanations for why they carried out the Soleimani strike, from citing his past attacks to claiming he was plotting an “imminent” attack.

On Friday, President Trump claimed Soleimani was threatening four U.S. embassies. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he “didn’t see” specific intelligence that Soleimani was planning to attack four embassies but added that he shares Trump’s “view” that that could have happened.

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On Monday, Trump added that it “doesn’t really matter” if Soleimani posed an imminent threat “because of his horrible past.”

In his statement Monday, Engel said Pompeo should “welcome” the opportunity to testify and clarify the administration’s position.

“Each passing day raises new questions about the strike that killed General Soleimani,” Engel said. “Was there really an imminent threat? Was it part of a larger operation? What was the legal justification? What is the path forward? With the wildly muddled explanations coming from the administration, the secretary should welcome the opportunity to make the case and answer questions before the American people. The committee expects to hear from him soon.”

After a closed-door briefing last week with Pompeo, Esper, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Engel raised the possibility of subpoenaing Pompeo if he would not appear voluntarily at the open hearing, but said no decisions had been made.

A committee spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Monday’s statement means Engel will not issue a subpoena.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee invited Pompeo to testify last Tuesday, saying in a letter that his participation would “provide the committee with valuable context as it considers legislation related to the use of military force, as well as strategy and aims of U.S. policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East.”

Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled to proceed with expert testimony from Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow Avril Haines and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

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