Trump Spurns Cooperation in Impeachment Probe, Escalating Fight

Josh Wingrove
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Trump Spurns Cooperation in Impeachment Probe, Escalating Fight

(Bloomberg) -- The White House said President Donald Trump and his administration won’t participate in the House impeachment inquiry in a scathing letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling the proceedings unconstitutional and invalid.

“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in an eight-page letter laying out the White House’s concerns about the inquiry. “Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen.”

The letter, sent Tuesday, is the latest development in the unfolding legal struggle over document and testimony requests. It’s also another signal that Republicans seek to force Democrats in swing districts to take a difficult vote on impeachment if they want to proceed.

A senior administration official briefing reporters Tuesday said the White House would halt all participation in the inquiry, including declining to provide documents, even those sought by subpoena, or make officials available to give testimony. The official didn’t rule out cooperating if circumstances changed.

Pelosi has said that House committees have full authority to investigate. “There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding,” Pelosi told Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a recent letter.

QuickTake: Congress Wants Information. Trump Says No. What Next?

Cipollone demanded that Pelosi afford Trump due-process rights, including the opportunity to review evidence and cross-examine witnesses in the inquiry, and that she give Republicans in the House the power to subpoena their own witnesses and documents.

He also complained that Democrats have “resorted to threats and intimidation against potential Executive Branch witnesses” by warning that failure to respond to requests for documents and testimony would constitute evidence of obstructing the probe.

“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.

Pelosi, in a statement on Tuesday night, said “for a while, the president has tried to normalize lawlessness. Now, he is trying to make lawlessness a virtue.

“The White House letter,” she wrote, “is only the latest attempt to cover up his betrayal of our democracy, and to insist that the president is above the law.”

Pelosi 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.”

Some House Republicans met with Trump on Tuesday after being blindsided that Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, would be prevented from testifying in the inquiry. The administration committed to work more closely with congressional Republicans on impeachment proceedings. Sondland will now be subpoenaed.

Trump’s administration and personal legal team are pledging a fight, with some accusing Pelosi of overstepping by investigating without holding an actual impeachment vote. “Every option is on the table,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said Tuesday. “We’re looking at all kinds of litigation strategies with the denial of due process here.”

Trump is also enlisting help for his defense. Former Representative Trey Gowdy, who was once a prosecutor, will advise the White House on its legal and public relations strategies as well as interactions with Congress, according to two people familiar with the matter. Gowdy won’t be on the White House payroll, they said.

Some of Trump’s outside advisers have recommended he appoint an impeachment “czar” or create a “war room” to coordinate his defense, but the president has resisted out of concern the move would confer legitimacy to Pelosi’s inquiry.

(Adds additional Pelosi comment in 11th paragraph. A previous version of this story included a quote in eighth paragraph that had been inaccurately attributed to Cipollone.)

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Joshua Gallu

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