White House spurns House impeachment probe as illegitimate
The White House declared it will halt any and all cooperation with what it termed the "illegitimate" impeachment probe by House Democrats, sharpening the constitutional clash between President Donald Trump and Congress.
Trump attorneys on Tuesday sent a lengthy letter to House leaders bluntly stating White House refusal to participate in the inquiry that was given a boost by last week's release of a whistleblower's complaint that the president sought political favours from Ukraine.
"Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote.
That means no additional witnesses under administration purview will be permitted to appear in front of Congress or comply with document requests, a senior official said.
The White House is objecting that the House has not voted to begin an impeachment investigation into Trump. It also claims that Trump's due process rights are being violated.
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted in response that Trump's refusal to cooperate with the inquiry signals an attitude that "the president is above the law".
"The Constitution says otherwise," he asserted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House is well within its rules to conduct oversight of the executive branch under the Constitution regardless of a formal impeachment inquiry vote.
"Mr President, you are not above the law," Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday night.
"You will be held accountable."
The constitution states the House has the sole power of impeachment, and that the Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials.
It specifies that a president can be removed from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," if supported by a two-thirds Senate vote. But it offers little guidance beyond that on proceedings.
The White House letter marks the beginning of a new all-out strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump.
Aides have been honing their approach after two weeks of what allies have described as a listless and unfocused response to the probe. The president himself is sticking with the same Trump-as-victim rhetoric he has used for more than a year.
"People understand that it's a fraud. It's a scam. It's a witch hunt," he said on Monday. "I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody has done it for the first two and half years."
Early on Tuesday, Trump escalated his fight with Congress by blocking Gordon Sondland, the US European Union ambassador, from testifying behind closed doors about the president's dealings with Ukraine.