With no facts on his side
Mr. Trump’s lawyer tries and fails to justify stonewalling.
WHITE HOUSE Counsel Pat Cipollone was surprisingly unlawyerly in his previous major letter to Congress, in which he declared that the White House would obstruct, in any way it could, the House Democrats’ impeachment probe. So there was offense but little surprise in his latest letter, this time to the House Judiciary Committee, in which he informed Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that White House officials would not attend the committee’s Wednesday impeachment hearing.
Mr. Cipollone declared that past presidents facing impeachment, notably Bill Clinton and Richard M. Nixon, were treated more fairly. In fact, Mr. Clinton and Nixon each sent counsel to argue their cases before the Judiciary Committee, as House Democrats have invited President Trump to do, including by offering evidence and requesting witness testimony. They also have asked whether the White House would like to send officials to participate in other hearings, such as Wednesday’s, which will feature scholars testifying on impeachment.
In rejecting the offer to participate Wednesday, Mr. Cipollone complained of myriad alleged procedural problems, such as the fact that the House Republican minority does not have unfettered subpoena power, as the majority does. In fact, the minority’s ability to call witnesses is similar to that which existed in the Clinton and Nixon impeachments. The arrangement is particularly understandable in this case: House Republican leaders have based their defense of Mr. Trump on fictitious claims about Biden family corruption and Ukrainian intervention in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the president has refused to furnish key witnesses who can testify about the matter at hand: his own behavior.
Mr. Cipollone also complained that the Democrats might limit what the president can do in the hearings if Mr. Trump continued to obstruct their lawful congressional probe. Democrats have noted that the Judiciary Committee can deny specific White House requests if the president’s policy of total noncooperation continues. This is unsurprising: The House majority maintains this power and always has. The Constitution assigns the House “the sole Power of Impeachment” and states that the House “may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” Mr. Cipollone is essentially arguing that the House must surrender control of its hearings before the president halts his legally dubious embargo of those proceedings.
Mr. Trump is the one breaking precedent. The president has barred all executive branch witnesses from testifying and has refused to turn over relevant executive branch documents, even when lawmakers have issued valid subpoenas. Some executive branch officials have cooperated out of a sense of duty — or respect for the law — while others, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have refused to comply. Legal scholars quickly debunked Mr. Cipollone’s argument that previous presidents have been similarly intransigent.
The White House counsel’s overarching picture of a president being railroaded is false. If Mr. Trump has a substantive defense, he should send advisers to give testimony under oath instead of complaining about the process.