WASHINGTON — The White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a letter Tuesday afternoon to House Democrats calling the impeachment inquiry into President Trump “constitutionally invalid” and indicating that the White House would not cooperate with the congressional committees pursuing it.
“President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your unconstitutional inquiry,” the letter said.
The letter echoed comments that lawyers for President Trump made to Yahoo News earlier in the day saying that administration officials may stop cooperating with House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry because they believe it is “absurd.”
The comments came in the hours after U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was ordered by the State Department to skip a deposition that was part of the impeachment inquiry being led by Democrats on three House committees. Sondland is a central figure in text messages that Democrats have described as proof that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The Democrats are set to depose several witnesses linked to the president. They have also requested records from the State Department, White House and vice president’s office in addition to subpoenaing documents from one of the president’s personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, and some of his associates.
In a phone call with Yahoo News, Jay Sekulow, another one of Trump’s attorneys, suggested the decision to block Sondland from testifying could be the beginning of a larger showdown, with other officials not complying with requests for testimony or documents.
“It’s the White House’s call, but I think it’s fair to say that the irregularities in the investigation have caused everyone, including the White House ... including the president’s counsel ... to take a deep look at this and that’s what we’re doing,” Sekulow said.
Asked about whether he meant the president’s legal team is considering refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, Sekulow replied: “I can’t be more particular ... it’s not just refusing to cooperate. I would put it more in the context of exercising appropriate constitutional privileges.”
Sekulow also discussed Cipollone’s letter to House Democrats and said it would detail alleged “irregularities” in the inquiry. Cipollone and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for the Democrats on the three committees leading the inquiry also did not respond.
Cipollone’s letter, which was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the three committees, argued the inquiry is partisan and a violation of due process. In it, Cipollone said there was “no wrongdoing” in Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, which took place on July 25. Cipollone also argued the inquiry lacked the “appropriate procedures” including “at a minimum” the right for the president and his lawyers to “see all evidence,” “call witnesses” and “cross examine all witnesses.”
“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.
Sekulow’s comments to Yahoo News came shortly after he appeared on his live daily broadcast and suggested officials would not be willing to testify.
“You’re darn right ambassadors aren’t going to be testifying because the charade has been exposed for what it is — a charade,” Sekulow said on the show.
“This kind of cooperation” was “basically coming to an end” due to “the way that these witnesses are being treated,” Sekulow said.
Among other issues Sekulow outlined with the impeachment inquiry, he accused the House of not respecting executive privilege. He also noted the House does “not recognize attorney-client privilege.”
“This is a charade taking place in the House of Representatives. There’s no due process ... there is nothing done with any structure,” Sekulow said.
Trump’s attorneys have also expressed concerns about the fact that the two whistleblowers who have filed complaints about Trump’s Ukraine call are anonymous.
“That presents a serious issue. If they’re going to base an article of impeachment based on two whistleblowers that cannot be cross-examined, or interviewed, or testify, I think that borders on the absurd,” Sekulow said in the phone call with Yahoo News.
The anonymous complaints were filed in accordance with whistleblower protection laws that are designed to protect government employees who raise concerns about potential misconduct from retaliation.
If officials refuse to comply with requests from House Democrats for testimony or documents, it will set the stage for an intense legal showdown where Democrats would need to issue subpoenas and potentially find people who decline to comply in contempt. After Sondland was blocked from testifying, the three Democratic committee chairs leading the inquiry issued a statement that declared, “We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.”
For his part, Giuliani, the president’s lawyer who has been subpoenaed for documents, said the Democrats would “make fools out of themselves” if they tried to hold him or others in contempt. Giuliani also echoed criticism of the inquiry, which he compared to the midcentury Red Scare by dubbing it “worse than Joe McCarthy.”
On his show, Sekulow made clear that Trump and his legal team are readying for a battle.
“We are not going to allow these inquiries, as they’re calling them, to turn into a destruction of the U.S. Constitution,” Sekulow said. “We’re fighting back, so is the White House. Enough is enough.”
Additional reporting by Alexander Nazaryan
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