The White House's logic regarding its refusal to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry defies logic. Articles I and II of the Constitution couldn't be clearer about the division of powers between the three branches of government and the responsibility of Congress to stand in judgment when it believes the president has committed a crime. Article II makes clear that the president has power to intervene and issue pardons in other cases, but when it comes to impeachment, the president must submit to the will of Congress.
President Donald Trump is no ordinary president. Where his predecessors have recognized their constitutional boundaries and honored the oversight powers invested in Congress, Trump has defied them repeatedly and suggested he is above the law. No matter how clear the evidence is that Trump committed a crime by soliciting campaign help from Ukraine's president, the White House maintains that it has no obligation to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, either by handing over evidence or allowing Executive Branch staffers to testify. In other words, the White House now asserts a right to obstruct justice.
"These partisan proceedings are an affront to the Constitution — as they are being held behind closed doors and deny the President the right to call witnesses, to cross-examine witnesses, to have access to evidence, and many other basic rights," the White House press secretary's office said in a statement.
The statement and an eight-page letter by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone underscore the president's fundamental misunderstanding of how impeachment works. The House inquiry is similar to a grand jury investigation, where evidence and depositions are collected before the indictment phase begins. Impeachment by the full House constitutes a formal indictment, which then passes to the Senate for trial. Just as defendants don't get to cross-examine witnesses or access evidence in grand jury proceedings, the White House has no such right in this inquiry.
Trump has insisted that his July 25 conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky carried no explicit quid pro quo even though Zelensky mentioned his country's need for U.S. military aid, prompting Trump's reply, "I would like you to do us a favor though." The favor was for Ukraine to dig up dirt against Trump's potential 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Recently revealed text messages between senior U.S. envoys make clear that the White House wanted dirt against Biden in exchange for U.S. military cooperation and a White House visit by Zelensky. In nationwide polls since these revelations went public, most Americans have swung in favor of the impeachment inquiry.
Cipollone's letter refusing cooperation with the probe marks the latest, most desperate administration attempt to evade accountability. Cipollone has declared the inquiry unconstitutional because it has denied the president "due process" — even before the actual process has begun. If the president has nothing to hide, why wouldn't he cooperate?
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