President Donald Trump Tuesday declared himself above the law and is refusing to cooperate or even acknowledge the impeachment inquiry by the Congressional House or Representatives.
“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,” White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone claimed in a scathing eight-page letter to top congressional Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is not surprise or deterred by Trump’s latest antics.
“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,” Pelosi’s response said in a statement. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
Trump’s actions come as new polls show growing support for the impeachment inquiry. A new poll from Washington Post-School says a clear majority of Americans now endorse the decision by House Democrats and close to half of all adults say Congress should move to remove Trump from office.
Legal scholars note that the letter from the White House counsel “lacks substantive legal arguments” and repeats Trump’s “political broadsides” instead of valid claims. House Democrats say his failure to comply with the legal requests for information bolsters their case for at least one article of impeachment.
Trump’s latest actions come just a week he promised to cooperate with the inquiry.
“I always cooperate,” he said. “We’ll work together.”
Instead, the White House blocked an appearance Tuesday of Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, to testify on the impeachment inquiry.
The White House has put “a full halt” on any cooperation.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”
House leaders responded with a subpoena ordering Sondland to appear next week and turn over documents they are seeking.
“The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need,” Pelosi told reporters. “It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way.”
Text messages provided to Congress last week shows Sondland worked with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on a statement for the president of Ukraine committing to an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden while Trump was holding up $391 million in security aid to the country as leverage.
That effort led to the top American diplomat based in Ukraine to question Trump’s actions.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., the diplomat, wrote in early September.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin later told The Wall Street Journal that Sondland confirmed to him that release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigation of Biden.
Robert Luskin, Sondland’s lawyer, said Tuesday that his client, as a State Department employee had to comply with Trump’s demand that he not testify, but added that Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” that he not allowed to appear and promised he would do o “in the future if allowed.”
“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Legal experts say Trump is on thin ice by trying to block what is considered a legal Congressional impeachment inquiry.
“I think the goal of this letter is to further inflame the president’s supporters and attempt to delegitimize the process in the eyes of his supporters,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, tells The Associated Press. “It does not strike me as an effort to provide sober legal analysis.”
Philadelphia attorney Gregg Nunziata calls the White House letter a “direct assault on the very legitimacy of Congress’ oversight authority.”
“The Founders very deliberately chose to put the impeachment power in a political branch rather the Supreme Court,” Nunziata told The Associated Press. “They wanted this to be a political process and it is.”
University of Louisiana political science professor G. Pearson Cross calls the latter “an accelerant on a smoldering fire.”
“It’s a response that seems to welcome a constitutional crisis rather than defusing one or pointing toward some strategy that would deescalate the situation,” Cross added.
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