The White House said in a blistering letter sent Tuesday to top House Democrats that officials in the executive branch will not cooperate with House Democrats’ “constitutionally illegitimate” impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
In the letter, White House counsel Pat Cipollone accused Democrats of attempting to both overturn the results of the 2016 election, and influence the outcome of the 2020 contest through their impeachment push.
“[T]he President cannot allow your constitutionally illegitimate proceedings to distract him and those in the Executive Branch from their work on behalf of the American people,” Cipollone wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of several House committees.
“The President has a country to lead.”
Democrats opened the impeachment inquiry based on a whistleblower complaint filed against Trump on Aug. 12 over a phone call he had weeks earlier with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Democrats say that the complaint, and a transcript of the call, shows that Trump abused his office by pressuring Zelensky to open politically-charged investigations in Ukraine, including one into whether Joe Biden intervened in 2016 to help a Ukrainian energy company that had his son as a board member.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and has described the phone call as “perfect.”
Democrats have called several current and former State Department officials familiar with Trump’s posture towards Ukraine to testify as part of the impeachment probe. Kurt Volker, who served until recently as special envoy to Ukraine, gave a deposition to Congress last Thursday.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, was scheduled to appear for a deposition on Tuesday, but the White House intervened to say he could not appear.
In his letter, Cipollone accused Democrats of depriving Trump of his right to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses of his own, to review evidence, and to have his attorneys take part in the impeachment proceedings.
“You have conducted your proceedings in secret,” he wrote.
“Never before in our history has the House of Representatives — under the control of either political party — taken the American people down the dangerous path you seem determined to pursue.”
Cipollone also focused on Rep. Adam Schiff’s role in the whistleblower saga. He noted that a member of Schiff’s office met with the whistleblower, a CIA analyst, before the complaint was filed on Aug. 12. The aide advised the whistleblower to file the complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General, and also told Schiff about the contact with the whistleblower.
Schiff failed to acknowledge that his office had contact with the whistleblower while he was making a public push to obtain the complaint. The Washington Post fact-checker dinged Schiff for lying in interviews where he claimed that he did not know anything about the whistleblower and the complaint.
“[T]he American people understand that Chairman Schiff cannot covertly assist with the submission of a complaint, mislead the public about his involvement, read a counterfeit version of the call to the American people, and then pretend to sit in judgment as a neutral ‘investigator,’” wrote Cipollone.
“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,” he added.