White House to defy impeachment probe, Democratic leaders allege obstruction of Congress
The White House on Tuesday told Congressional Democratic leaders it would not cooperate with their impeachment inquiry of the president as it was “unfair”, “unprecedented” and “unconstitutional”.
In an escalating standoff triggered by what has been called a declaration of war by the White House, the Democrats hit back saying its defiance could amount to obstruction of Congress, another charge in the articles of impeachment being considered against President Donald Trump.
The White House spelt out its defiance in a scathing eight-page letter from Pat A Cipollone, counsel to the president, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler chairmen of the House intelligence and judiciary committees that are leading the impeachment inquiry triggered in late September by a whistleblower’s complaint into President Trump’s attempts to force Ukraine to probe his political rivals.
“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process,” Cipollone wrote. “President Trump cannot permit his administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances.”
President Trump followed up Wednesday in a stream of tweets in which he described the inquiry as a “scam by do-nothing Democrats” and called for ending it for “the good of the country”.
Speaker Pelosi responded with an equally combative 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 said, adding, “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
White House counsel has argued citing precedence and history but not law, the House of Representatives should have taken a vote beforehand to authorize the probe as was done in the previous two instances of impeachment proceedings, against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
There has been no vote indeed on the impeachment inquiry, which was simply announced at a news conference by the speaker last month. But experts have said the US constitution is largely silent on the impeachment process, and only says the House must vote to pass the article of impeachment, affirming the charges. The trial to convict and impeach the president or acquit him takes place in the senate. Nixon had resigned during the impeachment inquiry process and Clinton was acquitted by the senate, after the House had voted to impeach him.
Cipollone’s second key objection to the impeachment inquiry was that the president had been denied due process of cross-examining witnesses and examining evidence being presented against him. “No citizen-including the President-should be treated this unfairly,” he wrote.
The White House counsel has also demanded, citing precedence, “co-equal” powers for the Republicans on the committee leading the impeachment inquiry to issue subpoenas, the lack of which, he contended showed the “current proceedings are nothing more than an unconstitutional exercise in political theater”.
But the White House did not commit to extending cooperation if the Democrats did in fact met its demands. “I don’t want to try to predict now because we’ll have to see how it develops,” a senior administration official told reporters when asked on a background briefing call Tuesday.
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