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The White House outlined in a defiant eight-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats on Tuesday why it will not participate in their “illegitimate and unconstitutional” impeachment inquiry, charging that the proceedings have run roughshod over congressional norms and the president’s due-process rights.
Trump administration officials called the letter, which was written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and obtained by Fox News, perhaps the most historic letter the White House has sent. The document tees up a head-on collision with Democrats in Congress, who have fired off a slew of subpoenas in recent days concerning the president’s apparent efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political foe Joe Biden.
“President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” the letter stated. “Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice. 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 document concluded: “The president has a country to lead. The American people elected him to do this job, and he remains focused on fulfilling his promises to the American people.”
Substantively, the White House first noted in the letter that there has not been a formal vote in the House to open an impeachment inquiry — and that the news conference held by Pelosi last month was insufficient to commence the proceedings.
“In the history of our nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step,” the letter stated.
It continued: “Without waiting to see what was actually said on the call, a press conference was held announcing an ‘impeachment inquiry’ based on falsehoods and misinformation about the call.”
Despite Pelosi’s claim that there was no “House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry,” several previous impeachment inquiries have been launched only by a full vote of the House — including the impeachment proceedings concerning former Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
White House officials told Fox News the vote opening the proceedings was a small ask, considering the implications of potentially overturning a national election.
The letter went on to note that “information has recently come to light that the whistleblower had contact with [House Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Adam] Schiff’s office before filing the complaint,” and that Schiff’s “initial denial of such contact caused The Washington Post to conclude that Chairman Schiff “clearly made a statement that was false.”
The letter added: “In any event, the American people understand that Chairman Schiff cannot covertly assist with the submission of a complaint, mislead the public about his involvement, read a counterfeit version of the call to the American people, and then pretend to sit in judgment as a neutral ‘investigator.'”
The letter was dinging Schiff for reciting a fictional version of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader during a congressional hearing. Schiff later called his statements a “parody.”
“Perhaps the best evidence that there was no wrongdoing on the call is the fact that, after the actual record of the call was released, Chairman Schiff chose to concoct a false version of the call and to read his made-up transcript to the American people at a public hearing,” the letter stated. “The chairman’s action only further undermines the public’s confidence in the fairness of any inquiry before his committee.”
Ukraine’s leader has said he felt Trump did nothing improper in their July call, and DOJ lawyers who reviewed the call said they found no laws had been broken. The White House released a transcript of the conversation last month, as well as the whistleblower’s complaint, which seemingly relied entirely on second-hand information.
Separately, the letter asserted multiple alleged violations of the president’s due-process rights. It noted that under current impeachment inquiry proceedings, Democrats were not allowing presidential or State Department counsel to be present.
Democrats’ procedures did not 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,” the letter noted, nor did the procedures afford the president “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.”
Democrats also have not permitted Republicans in the minority to issue subpoenas, contradicting the “standard, bipartisan practice in all recent resolutions authorizing presidential impeachment inquiries.”
The letter claimed that House committees have “resorted to threats and intimidation against potential Executive Branch witnesses,” by raising the specter of obstruction of justice when administration employees seek to assert “long-established Executive Branch confidentiality interests and privileges in response to a request for a deposition.”
“Current and former State Department officials are duty bound to protect the confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch, and the Office of Legal Counsel has also recognized that it is unconstitutional to exclude agency counsel from participating in congressional depositions,” the letter stated.
Additionally, the letter noted that Democrats reportedly were planning to interview the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry at an undisclosed location — contrary, the White House said, to the constitutional notion of being able to confront one’s accuser.
According to a White House official, the bottom line was: “We are not participating in your illegitimate exercise. … If you are legitimately conducting oversight, let us know. But all indications are this is about impeachment.”