President Trump has declared that he and his administration will flout Congress’ impeachment inquiry.
In an eight-page letter to House leaders, signed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump claims he’s being victimized by an “unauthorized impeachment inquiry that conflicts with all historical precedent and rides roughshod over due process and the separation of powers.”
The letter is, legally speaking, quite mad. One Georgetown law professor describes it as a set of “totally absurd legal arguments attempting to justify what is clearly contempt of Congress.” Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe calls its legal reasoning “utter and total garbage.” A lawyer who used to work in the Senate for Marco Rubio describes it as “a barely-lawyered temper tantrum” and “a middle finger to Congress and its oversight responsibilities.” Orin Kerr, a law professor at U.C. Berkeley, adds: “OK, now there’s a constitutional crisis.”
Article 1: Section 2 of the constitution states that impeachment is the “sole” power of House of Representatives. This gives the House broad leeway in how to conduct an actual impeachment trial, and full control of any process for investigating wrongdoing.
The White House letter nonetheless repeatedly claims that this black-and-white constitutional prerogative is being wielded in a way that violates the constitution: “Your highly partisan and unconstitutional effort,” it reads in part, “threatens grave and lasting damage to our democratic institutions, to our system of free elections, and to the American people.”
The letter reads less like a cogent legal argument than a regurgitation of Trump’s top impeachment talking points dressed up in legalese.
To wit, these six arguments might sound familiar:
Trump did nothing wrong:
President Trump took the unprecedented step of providing the public transparency by declassifying and releasing the record of his call with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine…. That record clearly established that the call was completely appropriate, that the President did nothing wrong, and that there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry.
Democrats just can’t stand that Trump won:
Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen.
Trump is being subjected to a kangaroo court and denied due process, including…
…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. Likewise, the Committees must 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. The Committees’ current procedures provide none of these basic constitutional rights.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff is the real villain, and his decision to parody the president in a House hearing invalidates his standing:
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… This powerfully confirms there is no issue with the actual call. Otherwise, why would Chairman Schiff feel the need to make up his own version? … The American people understand that Chairman Schiff cannot… read a counterfeit version of the call to the American people, and then pretend to sit in judgment as a neutral “investigator.”
This impeachment inquiry is not a valid impeachment inquiry:
Your inquiry is constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process. 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…. House leadership claims to have initiated the gravest inter-branch conflict contemplated under our Constitution by means of nothing more than a press conference at which the Speaker of the House simply announced an “official impeachment inquiry.” Your contrived process is unprecedented in the history of the Nation, and lacks the necessary authorization for a valid impeachment proceeding.
The White House has more important things to do and can’t be bothered:
Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it…. The President cannot allow your constitutionally illegitimate proceedings to distract him and those in the Executive Branch from their work on behalf of the American people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has responded to Trump’s letter:
“The White House letter is only the latest attempt to cover up his betrayal of our democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This letter is manifestly wrong,” she added, cautioning the White House 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.” To Trump Pelosi offered a specific message, and warning: “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
Read the full letter, in all its glory, below: