The White House outlined in a defiant eight-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats on Tuesday why it will not participate in their “illegitimate and unconstitutional” impeachment inquiry, charging that the proceedings have run roughshod over congressional norms and the president's due-process rights.
Trump administration officials called the letter, which was written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and obtained by Fox News, perhaps the most historic letter the White House has sent. The document tees up a head-on collision with Democrats in Congress, who have fired off a slew of subpoenas in recent days concerning the president's alleged effort to get Ukraine to investigate political foe Joe Biden during a July phone call with Ukraine's leader.
"President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process," the letter stated. "Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice. 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."
The document concluded: "The president has a country to lead. The American people elected him to do this job, and he remains focused on fulfilling his promises to the American people."
Responding to the letter, Pelosi accused Trump of "trying to make lawlessness a virtue" and added, "The American people have already heard the President’s own words – ‘do us a favor, though.’" (That line, from a transcript of Trump's call with Ukraine's leader, in reality referred to Trump's request for Ukraine to assist in an investigation into 2016 election interference, and did not relate to Biden.)
Pelosi continued: "This letter is manifestly wrong, and is simply another unlawful attempt to hide the facts of the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to pressure foreign powers to intervene in the 2020 elections. ... 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.”
Substantively, the White House first noted in its letter that there has not been a formal vote in the House to open an impeachment inquiry -- and that the news conference held by Pelosi last month was insufficient to commence the proceedings.
"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," the letter stated.
It continued: "Without waiting to see what was actually said on the call, a press conference was held announcing an 'impeachment inquiry' based on falsehoods and misinformation about the call."
Despite Pelosi's claim that there was no “House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry,” several previous impeachment inquiries have been launched only by a full vote of the House -- including the impeachment proceedings concerning former Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
White House officials told Fox News the vote opening the proceedings was a small ask, considering the implications of potentially overturning a national election.
The letter went on to note that "information has recently come to light that the whistleblower" who first flagged Trump's call with Ukraine's president "had contact with [House Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Adam] Schiff's office before filing the complaint."
And Schiff's "initial denial of such contact caused The Washington Post to conclude that Chairman Schiff "clearly made a statement that was false," the letter observed.
Multiple reports surfaced this week that the whistleblower had a prior "professional relationship" with one of the 2020 Democratic candidates for president. On Friday, lawyers for the whistleblower did not respond to questions from Fox News about the whistleblower's possible previous relationship with any currently prominent Democrat.
The letter added: "In any event, the American people understand that Chairman Schiff cannot covertly assist with the submission of a complaint, mislead the public about his involvement, read a counterfeit version of the call to the American people, and then pretend to sit in judgment as a neutral 'investigator.'"
The White House was dinging Schiff for reciting a fictional version of Trump's call with Ukraine's leader during a congressional hearing. Schiff later called his statements a "parody."
Perhaps the best evidence that there was no wrongdoing on the call is the fact that, after the actual record of the call was released, 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," the letter stated. "The chairman's action only further undermines the public's confidence in the fairness of any inquiry before his committee."
Ukraine's president has said he felt Trump did nothing improper in their July call, and DOJ lawyers who reviewed the call said they found no laws had been broken. The White House released a transcript of the conversation last month, as well as the whistleblower's complaint, which seemingly relied entirely on second-hand information.
Separately, the letter asserted multiple alleged violations of the president's due-process rights. It noted that under current impeachment inquiry proceedings, Democrats were not allowing presidential or State Department counsel to be present.
Democrats' procedures did not 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 letter noted, nor did the procedures afford the president "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."
Democrats also have not permitted Republicans in the minority to issue subpoenas, contradicting the "standard, bipartisan practice in all recent resolutions authorizing presidential impeachment inquiries."