White House Rejects Participation in ‘Unconstitutional’ Inquiry

In letter to top House Democrats, White House counsel says inquiry 'violates fundamental fairness'
October 8, 2019 Updated: October 9, 2019

In a letter to top House Democrats, the White House told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and three committee chairmen that it won’t participate in the “highly partisan and unconstitutional” impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The Oct. 8 letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone says the inquiry “violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process,” and he called on House members to cease their impeachment efforts.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “The President has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it. For purely political reasons, the Democrats have decided their desire to overturn the outcome of the 2016 election allows them to conduct a so-called impeachment inquiry that ignores the fundamental rights guaranteed to every American.

“These partisan proceedings are an affront to the Constitution—as they are being held behind closed doors, and deny the President the right to call witnesses, to cross-examine witnesses, to have access to evidence, and many other basic rights.”

The eight-page letter (pdf)—addressed to Pelosi, 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.)—comes as House Democrats are investigating allegations made by an anonymous whistleblower about the president’s conduct during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July.

House Democrats accuse the president of leveraging his office and withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine to obtain “dirt” on a political opponent—2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

A transcript of the call, released by the White House on Sept. 25, revealed that Trump had asked Zelensky to look into Biden’s dealings in Ukraine but hadn’t pressured him, and there was no quid pro quo.

The letter from Cipollone states that the inquiry runs afoul of congressional norms, and accuses the Democrats of failing to afford the president due process protections and fairness.

“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process,” the letter said.

“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.”

The letter states that for these reasons, the White House won’t comply with the demands of House lawmakers.

“President Trump and his Administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” the letter states.

“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 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.”

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 inquiry process. Pelosi announced the investigation based on media reports about the whistleblower and before reviewing the Trump–Zelensky call transcript.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Pelosi on Oct. 3, calling on her to suspend the impeachment inquiry until she puts into place “transparent and equitable rules and procedures.”

Meanwhile, Trump said 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. In 2018, Biden boasted that he had pressured then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to remove a prosecutor who was investigating a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, where the former vice president’s son held a lucrative board position.

Trump said on Oct. 4: “Everything, to me, is about corruption. We want to find out what happened with 2016. And, as you know, there’s a lot of work going on, on that. I don’t care about Biden’s campaign, but I do care about corruption.”

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan
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