Trump administration says it ‘cannot participate’ in impeachment inquiry

President Trump speaks to reporters outside the White House on October 4. The White House sent a letter to House Democrats saying they would not cooperate with requests as part of their impeachment inquiry. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump speaks to reporters outside the White House on October 4. The White House sent a letter to House Democrats saying they would not cooperate with requests as part of their impeachment inquiry. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

The Trump White House says it will not participate in Congress’s ongoing impeachment inquiry, stepping up a political and legal standoff between the two branches of government.

In a blistering 8-page letter to Democratic congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House counsel Pat Cipollone repeatedly mocks the Democrats’ process.

It “lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation” and is simply an effort to “nullify the outcome of the democratic process” by reversing the outcome of the 2016 election and influence the upcoming 2020 election, he writes.

Cipollone argues that because there has been no formal vote to begin an impeachment inquiry, there is no official process and the administration is not required to comply.

Pelosi has said that an official vote is not necessary under House rules and the relevant House committees can continue their investigations under a banner of impeachment.

The White House’s position, however, is that no vote means Republicans are being denied investigative and other powers to defend the president — and that is unfair.

“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,” Cipollone writes.

“Because participating in this inquiry under the current unconstitutional posture would inflict lasting institutional harm on the executive branch and lasting damage to the separation of powers, you have left the president no choice.”

Translation: No documents and no witnesses.

On a conference call with reporters, however, a senior administration official would not commit to cooperating with Democrats even if there were a formal vote.

The ambassador who wasn’t there

The release of the letter followed the Trump administration’s order blocking Gordon Sondland — the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — from testifying before Congress.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he wasn’t going to subject Sondland to questions from a “kangaroo court,” an allusion to what he called the unfairness of the process.

Congressional Democrats want answers about Sondland’s and others’ participation in the growing scandal over Ukraine and Trump’s pressure on a foreign government to investigate his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that the efforts by Democrats are “purely political” and “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,” Grisham said.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.