The White House said in a letter on Tuesday that it wouldn’t cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry. In a letter to Democratic leaders, the executive branch claimed that the inquiry was “unconstitutional” and that Donald Trump wouldn’t be providing testimony or documents to the House committee.
According to The New York Times, a letter signed by White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone came on the heels of the White House’s decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, a key witness and the United States ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before the House committee.
“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” it read. “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 letter sets up what will likely end up being a constitutional battle between Congress and the executive branch.
Earlier on Tuesday, the White House blocked Sondland at the last minute from testifying in front of Congress. The ambassador had traveled from Europe to the U.S. for his testimony and lawmakers had returned from recess to participate in the hearing. But the Trump administration claimed that the hearing wouldn’t be unbiased and, as such, couldn’t proceed.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” Trump tweeted, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s [sic] rights have been taken away.”
Lawmakers and leaders on both sides of the aisle are reportedly concerned that the White House’s reluctance to cooperate could harm the investigation. While Democrats argue that it could hamper their access to vital information, Republicans worry that it could add fuel to the Democrats’ claims that Trump is hiding information.
Rep. Adam Schiff: "The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the Constitutional functions of Congress." pic.twitter.com/iIkFWDjWQc— The Hill (@thehill) October 8, 2019
Adam Schiff, who heads the Intelligence Committee leading the impeachment inquiry, said that they would continue their work with or without cooperation from the White House. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked that Trump’s failure to cooperate with the investigation could qualify as obstruction of justice — in itself an impeachable offense.
The House’s impeachment efforts focus on a phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which took place on July 25. Reportedly, the president used the power of his office to pressure the Ukrainian leader to look into Joe Biden, one of the leading presidential Democratic candidates.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the conversation was aimed at eradicating corruption and not about whether or not it would harm his political opponent.