The White House defies the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives, rejecting subpoenas for documents, and blocking witnesses from testifying.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairs of three House committees — Adam Schiff of Intelligence, Eliot Engel of Foreign Affairs, and Elijah Cummings of Oversight and Reform — “President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
Cipollone made a series of allegations: that the committees had threatened Executive Branch members, that they were trying to punish those exercising “fundamental Constitutional rights”, and that they had denied Trump the right to cross-examine witnesses and call his own.
He asserted, “Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen.”
House Democrats were not intimidated. Pelosi immediately responded in a 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.
Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Trump camp blocked another witness — Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union — hours before he was due to meet House investigators.
Sondland and the former US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, had a central role in the campaign by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to pressure Kiev into opening investigations into Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, as well as to cover up Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
A “senior administration official” then said the White House would ensure a “full halt” to cooperation, with no provision of witnesses or documents.
For months, Trump and his allies have stonewalled over subpoenas seeking material and testimony about the Trump-Russia affair and about Trump’s financial, business, and tax matters, amid multiple Federal and State investigations. Attorney General William Barr refused to appear before House committee and tried to bury the Mueller Report, which documented the Trump campaign’s links with Russia and Trump’s multiple obstructions of justice, by misrepresenting it.
The confrontation has escalated after the revelations of the Trump-Giuliani campaign to undermine Democratic rival Biden in the 2020 election, including Trump’s demand for investigations in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Trump had declared publicly last week, “I always cooperate”, but balked after revelations last week of text messages between Volker; Sondland; the US chargé d’affaires William Taylor, and Zelenskiy’s senior aide Andriy Yermak. The exchanges highlighted the extent of the 10-month Trump-Giuliani campaign, including a possible link between Trump’s suspension of security aid to Ukraine and his demands of Zelenskiy.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted:
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, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2019
Giuliani had already said he would not testify unless Rep. Schiff stepped down as chair of the Intelligence Committee. He railed on Tuesday, “I think the committee is a joke. It’s the McCarthy committee on steroids. There’s no sensitivity to civil rights.”
The State Department missed a Friday deadline over the subpoena for documents, although it said discussions are ongoing with House lawyers. Vice President Mike Pence has been asked to hand over material, and subpoenas were issued Monday to the Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget.
In addition to blocking Ambassador Sondland’s testimony on Tuesday, the White House apparently instructed the State Department to withhold the envoy’s text messages, which Schiff said were “deeply relevant”. At the end of Tuesday, a new subpoena ordered Sondland to turn over documents and to appear next Wednesday.
Sondland is a political appointee rather a career diplomat. A hotelier, he donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
After news of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy began to circulate, Sondland tried to cover the President by insisting — in contrast to the concerns of other diplomats — that the investigations of Biden and the Democrats were not a “quid pro quo” for military assistance to Ukraine.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a leading supporter of Trump, said, “We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland. But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look, if it’s going to be this kind of process.'”