House Impeachment Managers Target Top Trump Lawyer, Claim He’s ‘Material Witness’

January 21, 2020 Updated: January 21, 2020
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House impeachment managers on Jan. 21 targeted Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel who’s playing a major role in the defense of President Donald Trump in the Senate trial.

The House Democrats wrote in a letter (pdf) to Cipollone on Jan. 21 that he’s a “material witness” in the trial, and demanded that he disclose all “first-hand facts and information” before the trial starts.

“In preparation for the trial of Donald J. Trump before the Senate, we write to notify you that evidence received by the House of Representatives during its impeachment inquiry indicates that you are a material witness to charges in both Articles of Impeachment for which President Trump now faces trial,” the House managers wrote.

“You must disclose all facts and information as to which you have first-hand knowledge that will be at issue in connection with evidence you present or arguments you make in your role as the President’s legal advocate so that the Senate and Chief Justice can be apprised of any potential ethical issues, conflicts, or biases.”

Trump was impeached for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Cipollone has “detailed knowledge” about the facts on the first charge and “played an instrumental role in the conduct charged” in the second article of impeachment, the letter states.

“These issues are directly implicated by your involvement in the events underlying the Articles of Impeachment,” they wrote, adding that ethics rules would “generally preclude” a lawyer from participating in a trial under such conditions.

pat cipollone
White House counsel Pat Cipollone arrives for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The White House criticized the letter, calling it a “political stunt.”

“The Democrats are an utter joke—they have no case, and this latest political stunt proves it,” White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

“The idea that the Counsel to the President has to turn over protected documents and confidential information is ludicrous, and to imply he can’t represent the President of the United States in an impeachment proceeding is completely absurd.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also called the request for Cipollone to leave the defense team “absurd.”

“Unlike the House, the Senate will have a FAIR trial. That means we won’t deny the President his lawyer ON THE DAY the trial starts,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Under the standard put forth by the House Democrats today—that any potential fact witness cannot serve as counsel in the impeachment hearing—there is an obvious person who should be disqualified: Adam Schiff,” Cruz added. The White House also called for Schiff to be disqualified.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the House managers, was said to be a fact witness by Republicans.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’d call Schiff to be a witness in the Senate impeachment trial, and House Republicans have repeatedly said Schiff should testify in the trial. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway challenged Schiff to testify, saying he’s a “fact witness.”

At least one member of Schiff’s team met with the person who filed the complaint against Trump that triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Schiff initially said on national television that “we have not spoken directly with the whistleblower.” Several weeks later, after his office confirmed a report that a staffer had spoken with the person, Schiff said he regretted what he said.

Still, Schiff insisted during the House impeachment inquiry that he didn’t know the identity of the whistleblower after House Republicans pushed for a closed-door deposition of the person.

Schiff dismissed calls for him to testify last week, saying during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” in November 2019 that it would display “a fundamental lack of seriousness, a willingness to try to turn this into a circus, like the president would like,” if Schiff were called as a witness.

Cruz, on Jan. 21, added on Twitter, “Maybe we should disqualify Schiff as a lawyer, and schedule him instead as a witness to explain his role in creating the ‘evidence’ in this proceeding?”

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