Trump won't aid 'par­ti­san' in­quiry

Re­fusal to co­op­er­ate es­ca­lates fight over im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin As­so­ci­ated Press

The White House WASH­ING­TON — de­clared Tues­day it will halt any and all co­op­er­a­tion with what it termed the “par­ti­san and un­con­sti­tu­tional” im­peach­ment probe by House Democrats, sharp­en­ing the con­sti­tu­tional clash be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Congress.

Trump at­tor­neys sent a lengthy let­ter to House lead­ers bluntly stat­ing White House re­fusal to

par­tic­i­pate in the in­quiry that was given a boost by last week’s re­lease of a whistle­blower’s com­plaint that the pres­i­dent sought

po­lit­i­cal fa­vors from Ukraine. “Your un­prece­dented ac­tions have left the pres­i­dent with no choice,” said the let­ter signed by Pat Cipol­lone, the White House coun­sel. “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.”

That­means no ad­di­tional wit­nesses un­der ad­min­is­tra­tion purview will be per­mit­ted to ap­pear in front of Congress or com­ply with doc­u­ment re­quests, a se­nior of­fi­cial said.

House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff tweeted in re­sponse that Trump’s re­fusal to co­op­er­ate with the in­quiry sig

nals an at­ti­tude that “the pres­i­dent is above the law.”

“The Con­sti­tu­tion says oth­er­wise,” he as­serted.

The White House is ob­ject­ing that the House has not voted to be­gin an im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump. It also claims that Trump’s due process rights are be­ing vi­o­lated.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has in­sisted the House is well within its rules to con­duct over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion re­gard­less of a for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry vote.

“Mr. Pres­i­dent, you are not above the law,” Pelosi said in a state­ment Tues­day night. “You will be held ac­count­able.”

The Con­sti­tu­tion states the House has the sole power of im­peach­ment, and that the Se­nate has the sole power to con­duct im­peach­ment tri­als. It spec­i­fies that a pres­i­dent can be re­moved from of­fice for “trea­son, bribery, or other high crimes and mis­de­meanors,” if sup­ported by a two-thirds Se­nate vote. But it of­fers lit­tle guid­ance be­yond that on pro­ceed­ings.

The White House let­ter marks the be­gin­ning of an ag­gres­sive strat­egy to counter the im­peach­ment threat to Trump.

“Peo­ple un­der­stand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said on Mon­day. “I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it bet­ter than any­body has done it for the first two and half years.”

Early Tues­day, Trump es­ca­lated his fight with Congress by block­ing Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S. Euro­pean Union am­bas­sador, from tes­ti­fy­ing be­hind closed doors about the pres­i­dent’s deal­ings with Ukraine.

Sond­land’s at­tor­ney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “pro­foundly dis­ap­pointed” that he wouldn’t be able to tes­tify. And Schiff said Sond­land’s no-show was “yet ad­di­tional strong ev­i­dence” of ob­struc­tion of Congress by Trump and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo that will only strengthen a pos­si­ble im­peach­ment case.

The House fol­lowed up Tues­day af­ter­noon with sub­poe­nas for Sond­land’s tes­ti­mony and records.

Trump is also bulk­ing up his le­gal team.

For­mer Repub­li­can Rep. Trey Gowdy is be­ing brought on as out­side coun­sel, ac­cord­ing to an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. Gowdy, who did not seek re­elec­tion last year, led a con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hi­lary Clin­ton and the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Beng­hazi, Libya.

The whistle­blower’s com­plaint and text mes­sages re­leased by an­other en­voy por­tray U.S. Am­bas­sador Sond­land as a po­ten­tially im­por­tant wit­ness in al­le­ga­tions that the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent sought to dig up dirt on Demo­cratic ri­val Joe Bi­den in Ukraine and other coun­tries in the name of for­eign pol­icy.

Pelosi said thwart­ing the wit­ness tes­ti­mony on Tues­day was an “abuse of power” in it­self by the pres­i­dent.

The White House is claim­ing that Trump’s con­sti­tu­tional rights to cross-ex­am­ine wit­nesses and re­view all ev­i­dence in im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings ex­tend even to House in­ves­ti­ga­tions, not just a po­ten­tial Se­nate trial. It also is call­ing on Democrats to grant Repub­li­cans in the House sub­poena power to seek ev­i­dence in the pres­i­dent’s de­fense.

Else­where in Wash­ing­ton, a fed­eral judge heard ar­gu­ments Tues­day in a sep­a­rate case on whether the House has ac­tu­ally un­der­taken a for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry de­spite not hav­ing taken a vote and whether the in­quiry can be char­ac­ter­ized, un­der the law, as a “ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ing.”

That dis­tinc­tion mat­ters be­cause while grand jury tes­ti­mony is or­di­nar­ily se­cret, one ex­cep­tion au­tho­rizes a judge to dis­close it in con­nec­tion with a ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ing. House Democrats are seek­ing grand jury tes­ti­mony from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion as they con­duct their im­peach­ment in­quiry.

TA­SOS KATOPODIS/GETTY IMAGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, shown with Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, re­fused to let Sond­land tes­tify on Capi­tol Hill on Tues­day, a sign that the White House would not co­op­er­ate with House Democrats. Rep.Adam Schiff, D-Calif., (right) replied that Trump is not above the law.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ZACH GIB­SON / GETTY IMAGES

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has in­sisted the House is well within its rules to con­duct over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion, re­gard­less of a for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry vote.

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