The White House is pushing back against the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump by refusing to cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and interviews related to the investigation, setting up a constitutional crisis.
The eight-page letter, signed Tuesday by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, also accused Democratic lawmakers of using the investigation to overturn the 2016 election results and demanded they abandon all impeachment efforts.
The administration’s letter ― which consisted more of the president’s political attacks than substantive legal arguments ― alleged that Democrats have denied Trump the right to “see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses” and to object to “the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence.”
“President Trump and his Administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process. Your unprecedented actions have left the President with no choice,” the letter stated. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
The letter is addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings. Those three committees are in charge of the impeachment inquiry.
In response, Pelosi said Tuesday that the letter’s allegations are “manifestly wrong” and constitute the White House’s latest “unlawful attempt to hide” the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure foreign governments to intervene in the 2020 elections.
“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the President’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
The White House’s refusal to cooperate at all is almost sure to wind up in court.
“The White House says there is nothing wrong with pressuring a foreign government to intervene in a US election,” Schiff tweeted in response to the Cipollone letter, which also attacked the congressman’s character. “They say: they will not cooperate with an impeachment inquiry unless it’s on their terms. They mean: the President is above the law. The Constitution says otherwise.”
The letter is the latest uptick in the political battle over Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. A reconstruction of the call released by the White House shows Trump repeatedly pressuring his counterpart to investigate one of his main political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. The call took place shortly after Trump ordered his aides to block military funding to the country, as detailed in a complaint filed by a whistleblower from the intelligence community.
The call prompted Pelosi to finally launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s behavior, although the president has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and moved to delegitimize the effort.
House committees have issued multiple subpoenas as part of their investigations, which have already produced bombshell documents. Officials who received subpoenas include Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought . The House Oversight Committee also subpoenaed the White House for Ukraine-related documents.
Just after the White House released the letter Tuesday, the House announced that it had subpoenaed Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, for both documents and a deposition. Trump blocked Sondland earlier that day from testifying to lawmakers about the president’s communications with Ukraine.
Last Thursday, the chairs of three committees released text messages they obtained from Kurt Volker, who was until last month the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine. The missives appear to show clear instances of the Trump administration pressuring Ukraine for political favors.
Axios reported that the White House wants congressional Democrats, particularly those holding vulnerable seats, to go on the record in support of impeachment. Republicans will reportedly also have more sway over the inquiry once it is formalized.
Pelosi’s office has so far resisted those calls. On Oct. 3, she wrote a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reiterating that House committees had the “full authority to conduct investigations for all matters under their jurisdiction, including impeachment investigations.”
“There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi wrote. “We hope you and other Republicans share our commitment to following the facts, upholding the Constitution, protecting our national security, and defending the integrity of our elections at such a serious moment in our nation’s history.”
Republicans have thus far stood by Trump and moved to minimise the fallout from the call. GOP lawmakers who have fallen out of lockstep have been immediately castigated by their party.
Read the letter below:
This article has been updated with Representative Adam Schiff’s response, a House subpoena being sent to a former ambassador, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response.