White House steps up impeachment fight

Won’t cooperate with inquiry, says Trump administration, setting the stage for a constitutional battle.

October 09, 2019 09:43 pm | Updated 11:29 pm IST - Washington DC

U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump.

In an eight-page letter fulminating against the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump, the White House told the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat leaders that it would not cooperate with them, setting the stage for a constitutional battle between the Democrats and the administration.

Tuesday’s letter was signed by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and sent to Ms. Pelosi and the Chairmen of three House Committees heading an impeachment inquiry into the extent to which Mr. Trump had sought to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate former Vice-President Joseph R Biden Jr., a serious contender for the Presidency in 2020, and his son Hunter Biden. Mr. Cipollone said Mr. Trump’s due process rights had been violated and that the inquiry “violates fundamental fairness”.

“The effort to impeach President Trump — without regard to any evidence of his actions in office — is a naked political strategy that began the day he was inaugurated, and perhaps even before,” Mr. Cipollone wrote, accusing the Democrats of seeking to overturn Mr. Trump’s 2016 electoral victory and influence the elections in 2020.

The letter, which echoed some of Mr Trump’s views on the impeachment process, said that for the inquiry to be legal, the full House should have voted on it — a position counter to Ms. Pelosi assertion that such a vote was not constitutionally required.

‘Normalise lawlessness’

“Consistent with the duties of the President of the U.S., and in particular his obligation to preserve the rights of future occupants of his office, President Trump cannot permit his Administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances,” Mr. Capillone wrote.

Ms. Pelosi responded to Tuesday’s letter by calling it “manifestly wrong” in a statement and warned that the White House not cooperating could be seen as obstruction. “For a while, the President has tried to normalise lawlessness. Now, he is trying to make lawlessness a virtue,” she said.

“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 added. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

House Democrats are considering ways in which to get the whistleblower, whose complaint forms the basis of the impeachment inquiry, to testify without revealing his or her identity, The Washington Post reported.

Establishing further evidence of the administration’s determination to impede the inquiry, the State Department ordered the U.S.’s Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, from deposing before the House on Tuesday.

Mr. Sondland was scheduled to voluntarily present himself before the House panel on Tuesday, to discuss text messages, released by Democrats last Thursday, that showed that State Department officials and Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, sought to trade a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky in exchange for the Zelenksy administration investigating Hunter Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court,” Mr. Trump had said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Following his failure to appear before them, Democrats subpoenaed Mr. Sondland on Tuesday, asking him to testify on October 16 and also ordered him to comply with their document requests by October 14.

Given the position the White House has taken, it is unclear whether the deposition of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, on Friday, will proceed without hassles.

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