The White House on Tuesday wrote to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiEx-Trump officials met with Zelensky campaign aides at Trump hotel earlier this year: report Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Buttigieg unveils aggressive plan to lower drug prices | Supreme Court abortion case poses major test for Trump picks | Trump takes heat from right over vaping crackdown Former George W. Bush chief of staff endorses Trump impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Calif.) and three Democratic committee leaders to say it would not cooperate with the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump campaign slams Minneapolis mayor, Target Center for ‘attempting to extort’ them with rally security fees Susan Rice calls Trump decision to pull troops from Syria ‘batshit crazy’ Ex-Trump officials met with Zelensky campaign aides at Trump hotel earlier this year: report MORE, framing the investigation as an effort to “overturn the results of the 2016 election.”
White House counsel Pat Cipollone accused House Democrats in an eight-page letter of making “legally unsupported demands” of the executive branch and accused them of violating the Constitution and past precedent in opening the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” Cipollone wrote. “Because participating in this inquiry under the current unconstitutional posture would inflict lasting institutional harm on the Executive Branch and lasting damage to the separation of powers, you have left the President no choice.”
“Consistent with the duties of the President of the United States, and in particular his obligation to preserve the rights of future occupants of his office, President Trump cannot permit his Administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances,” he wrote.
The letter amounts to a directive to halt any cooperation with House Democrats and lays the foundation for what will be a bitter impeachment battle in the coming weeks.
Pelosi announced late last month that the House would formally launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump, alleging he abused his office by urging the Ukrainian president to “look into” Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenA dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Ex-Trump officials met with Zelensky campaign aides at Trump hotel earlier this year: report Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Buttigieg unveils aggressive plan to lower drug prices | Supreme Court abortion case poses major test for Trump picks | Trump takes heat from right over vaping crackdown MORE.
Democratic committee leaders have in recent days issued subpoenas demanding records from the White House, Vice President Pence, the Office of Management and Budget, the Pentagon and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiA dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Former George W. Bush chief of staff endorses Trump impeachment inquiry Giuliani associates won’t comply with House impeachment inquiry, attorney says MORE as part of the investigation.
The administration has been increasingly unwilling to cooperate with requests for testimony and documents related to the burgeoning Ukraine scandal.
The State Department earlier Tuesday directed the administration’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, not to appear before lawmakers to discuss his conversations related to Ukraine. Sondland had agreed to appear voluntarily, and Democrats signaled later Tuesday they plan to subpoena him to compel his participation in a deposition.
Top Democrats have warned that the administration’s failure to comply with their requests could be cited as obstruction in future articles of impeachment.
Responding to that argument, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday that “asserting rights under the Constitution cannot ever properly be framed as obstruction of justice.”
The letter released by the White House on Tuesday evening describes the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as “constitutionally invalid” because it has not been authorized by a majority vote by the House of Representatives.
The White House argued that the lack of a formal vote is a break with precedent set in the impeachment inquiries into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThis is the Clinton impeachment redux on a whole new toxic level Federal judge knocks DOJ stance that sitting president can’t be indicted Federal judge rules against Trump in fight to keep tax records from Manhattan prosecutors MORE.
A senior administration official declined to speculate on Tuesday as to whether Trump would cooperate if the House voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry, leaving open the possibility that the standoff would carry on regardless.
Pelosi last week rejected that the House faced an obligation to hold a vote on the impeachment inquiry. She would not rule out the possibility of holding one down the line, suggesting some Republicans may be nervous about having to take a side on the matter.
The letter also asserts that the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry have not afforded Trump the basic due process protections mandated by the Constitution, despite Pelosi’s public assertion that the House would treat Trump with fairness.
“To comply with the Constitution’s demands, appropriate procedures would include-at a minimum-the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony,” Cipollone wrote.
“Likewise, the Committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favorable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry,” he added.
Cipollone also took issue with the Democrats not allowing the committees’ Republican ranking members the power to issue subpoenas and accused House Democrats of “threatening” executive branch witnesses by stating that a failure by witnesses to participate in depositions would be viewed as evidence of obstruction of Congress.
Trump has railed against the impeachment inquiry as a “scam,” denying for weeks that there was anything wrong with his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call and a subsequent whistleblower complaint raising concerns about how the White House tried to hide its contents have formed the basis of Democrats’ investigation.
Tuesday’s letter marks the latest salvo in what has been a months-long battle between the Democratic-held House and the White House.
The administration routinely rejected House Democrats’ requests for documents and testimony related to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be ‘more serious’ than what Mueller ‘dragged up’ Lewandowski says Mueller report was ‘very clear’ in proving ‘there was no obstruction,’ despite having ‘never’ read it Fox’s Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census and other issues.
The standoffs led to multiple House committees holding Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFormer George W. Bush chief of staff endorses Trump impeachment inquiry Why do we have inspectors general? To call out abuse of power Democrats subpoena Pentagon, budget chiefs in impeachment push MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossLawmaker, scientists challenge Trump officials’ push to disband two key advisory boards Overnight Energy: Lawmaker, scientists challenge move to eliminate key advisory boards | White House nixes climate language from emissions proposal | Raffle offers deer hunt with Donald Trump Jr. Ex-senior Trump administration official joins lobbying shop MORE in contempt of Congress.
In some cases, House Democrats have gone to court to try to enforce subpoenas for witness testimony or documents from the executive branch.
Democrats may choose to go to court to challenge the White House’s refusal to comply with the demands related to the impeachment inquiry. Doing so would likely trigger a protracted legal battle, which could ultimately go to the Supreme Court.