On Tuesday, the White House sent a defiant 8-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, condemning her announced impeachment inquiry and warning that the Trump administration will not comply with the “illegitimate and unconstitutional” effort. Echoing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the letter claims that the proceedings have violated congressional norms and the president’s due process rights.
Trump administration officials told Fox News that the letter, written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, may be the most historic letter the White House has ever sent. The document challenges Democrats after they filed subpoenas asking Trump officials to testify.
“President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” states the letter, first published at Fox News. “Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice. In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
“In the history of our nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step,” the letter states. “Without waiting to see what was actually said on the call, a press conference was held announcing an ‘impeachment inquiry’ based on falsehoods and misinformation about the call.”
Pelosi had claimed that there was no “House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry,” but the full House did indeed vote to authorize impeachment inquiries in the cases of former Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.
The White House letter adds that “information has recently come to light that the whistleblower had contact with [House Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Adam] Schiff’s office before filing the complaint,” and that Schiff’s “initial denial of such contact caused The Washington Post to conclude that Chairman Schiff “clearly made a statement that was false.”
“In any event, the 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,'” Cipollone wrote in the letter.
The letter slams Schiff for reading fabricated quotes from President Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, the call at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, in an effort to make the call sound worse than it was. Schiff defended his quotes as a “parody.”
“Perhaps the best evidence that there was no wrongdoing on the call is the fact that, after the actual record of the call was released, Chairman Schiff chose to concoct a false version of the call and to read his made-up transcript to the American people at a public hearing,” the letter states. “The chairman’s action only further undermines the public’s confidence in the fairness of any inquiry before his committee.”
The letter also accuses Democrats of violating Trump’s due process rights by refusing to allow the president’s lawyers or State Department lawyers in the proceedings. Their actions did not provide for the “disclosure of all evidence favorable to the president and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry.” Democrats also have not afforded the president “the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony.”
These claims echo McCarthy’s letter. Last Thursday, the House minority leader denounced Pelosi’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry, noting that Congress had not even voted to open an official inquiry.
“As you know, there have been only three prior instances in our nation’s history when the full House has moved to formally investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for impeachment of a sitting President,” McCarthy wrote. “I should hope that if such an extraordinary step were to be contemplated a fourth time it would be conducted with an eye towards fairness, objectivity, and impartiality. Unfortunately, you have given no clear indication as to how your impeachment inquiry will proceed — including whether key historical precedents or basic standards of due process will be observed.”
“In addition, the swiftness and recklessness with which you have proceeded has already resulted in committee chairs attempting to limit minority participation in scheduled interviews, calling into question the integrity of such an inquiry,” the minority leader added. He also listed basic due process rights the Democrats must respect if the impeachment inquiry would be fair.
For all these reasons, the White House letter warns Democrats that Trump will not be cooperating with their inquiries and members of the administration will not be cooperating with subpoenas, which have questionable legal authority without a full House vote.
The document concludes: “The president has a country to lead. The American people elected him to do this job, and he remains focused on fulfilling his promises to the American people.”
The White House was smart to adopt this strategy. At the very least, it should encourage Democrats to hold a full House vote on the impeachment inquiry, putting many vulnerable Democrats in jeopardy for the 2020 election.
Even if the impeachment effort were less premature and hypocritical, Congress should respect the president’s due process rights in an impeachment inquiry.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.