In a letter sent by Pence’s office late Tuesday (pdf), his counsel Matthew Morgan dubbed the House committees’ request as part of a “self-proclaimed ‘impeachment inquiry.'” He added that “the purported ‘impeachment inquiry’ has been designed and implemented in a manner that calls into question your commitment to fundamental fairness and due process rights.”
The request (pdf) was issued to Pence on Oct. 4 by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
The committee chairmen stated in the letter to Pence that they are probing “the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election; and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression; as well as any efforts to cover up these matters.”
In the letter to the committee chairmen, Pence’s office noted that the House of Representatives “has not authorized any ‘impeachment inquiry.'” Morgan also pointed out that “the operative House rules do not delegate to any committee the authority to conduct an inquiry under impeachment power of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution (pdf).
“Instead of being accountable to the American people and casting a vote to authorize what all agree is a substantial constitutional step, you have instead attempted to avoid this fundamental requirement by invoking the Speaker’s announcement of an ‘official impeachment inquiry’ at a press conference,” the letter reads.
“Never before in history has the Speaker of the House attempted to launch an ‘impeachment inquiry’ against a President without a majority of the House of Representatives voting to authorize a constitutionally acceptable process.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said late Tuesday that the House would hold off on holding a formal impeachment inquiry vote.
An earlier letter addressed to Pelosi from White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Oct. 8 had also pointed out that the House had never in U.S. history tried to launch an impeachment inquiry against a president without a majority House vote.
The letter from Pence’s office noted that some of the documents requested by the committees “are clearly not vice-presidential records,” but added that the office is prepared to cooperate “in a manner consistent with well-established bipartisan constitutional protections and a respect for the separation of powers.”
“Until that time, the Office of the Vice President will continue to reserve all rights and privileges that may apply, including those protecting executive privileges, national security, attorney-client communications, deliberations, and communications among the President, the Vice President, and their advisors,” the letter said.
The committees did not subpoena Pence as they did to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Giuliani has said he will not comply with the subpoena. Acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought also appears unwilling to comply with a House request.
A July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is the focus of an impeachment inquiry into Trump, which was announced by Pelosi on Sept. 24, when she alleged that Trump “seriously violated the Constitution.”
House Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by asking Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump has denied any wrongdoing, saying that his request for Ukraine’s assistance to look into Biden’s dealings was intended to investigate alleged corruption, not to look for information on a political opponent.
There had also been claims accusing Trump of having withheld military aid funds from Ukraine and floated its release as a “quid pro quo” for an investigation into the Bidens. However, Trump told reporters that he had blocked the aid to Ukraine because of high levels of corruption and to spur European partners to shoulder a greater share of security assistance.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.