“For a while, the president has tried to normalize lawlessness,” Pelosi said in her statement. “Now, he is trying to make lawlessness a virtue. The American people have already heard the President’s own words—‘do us a favor, though.’ The president’s actions threaten our national security, violate our Constitution and undermine the integrity of our elections. The White House letter is only the latest attempt to cover up his betrayal of our democracy, and to insist that the president is above the law.”
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.
Pelosi’s Tuesday statement came hours after White House counsel Pat Cipollone issued a letter to Pelosi and three other Democrats—House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
In the eight-page letter (pdf), Cipollone called on members of the House to cease their impeachment efforts. The letter states that the impeachment inquiry into Trump runs afoul of congressional norms and is “highly partisan and unconstitutional.”
“President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process. Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” Cipollone wrote. “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 White House document later said, in part: “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.”
Pelosi Denounces Letter From White House
In Pelosi’s response statement, she referred to the White House letter as “manifestly wrong, and is simply another unlawful attempt to hide the facts of the Trump administration’s brazen efforts to pressure foreign powers to intervene in the 2020 elections.”
“Despite the White House’s stonewalling, we see a growing body of evidence that shows that President Trump abused his office and violated his oath to ‘protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution,'” Pelosi said in her statement.
“The White House should be 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,” she added. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
Pelosi did not indicate what steps, if any, House Democrats might take to compel the cooperation of the White House.
Pelosi in her statement also accused the White House of “making false claims about the Constitution, House rules and House precedent.” The words “false claims” in Pelosi’s statement hyperlinks to an Oct. 4 letter (pdf) from Schiff, Engel, and Cummings addressed to Acting Chief of Staff John Michael “Mick” Mulvaney.
White House Accuses House Democrats of Violating Constitution
The White House letter to Pelosi, Schiff, Engel, and Cummings accused the House Democrats’ actions as having violated “the Constitution, the rule of law, and every past precedent.”
Cipollone stated in the letter: “You have designed and implemented your [impeachment] inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.
“You have denied the president the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.
“You have conducted your proceedings in secret. You have violated civil liberties and the separation of powers by threatening Executive Branch officials, claiming that you will seek to punish those who exercise fundamental constitutional rights and prerogatives. All of this violates the Constitution, the rule of law, and every past precedent.”
Cipollone also noted that in the history of the United States, 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.”
He added: “Here, House leadership claims to have initiated the gravest inter-branch conflict contemplated under our Constitution by means of nothing more than a press conference at which the Speaker of the House simply announced an ‘official impeachment inquiry.'”
Impeachment Inquiry Launched Ahead of Call Transcript’s Release
Trump and House Republicans have repeatedly criticized Pelosi and House Democrats for the way the inquiry was launched and for the lack of transparency in the process. Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24 based on media reports about the whistleblower and before reviewing the Trump-Zelensky call transcript.
In the White House letter, Cipollone pointed out that, “[W]ithout 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.”
“To rebut those falsehoods, and to provide transparency to the American people, President Trump secured agreement from the government of Ukraine and took the extraordinary step of declassifying and publicly releasing the record of the call,” Cipollone added. “That record clearly established that the call was completely appropriate, that the president did nothing wrong, and that there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry.”
The White House released the transcript of the call on Sept. 25; on the same day, Pelosi told reporters that she had not yet read the transcript of the phone call. A redacted version of what is now commonly referred to as the “whistleblower complaint” was then made public on Sept. 26.
Reuters and Janita Kan contributed to this report.