White House says it will not comply with 'illegitimate' impeachment inquiry

The White House declared Tuesday in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats that the Trump administration will not cooperate in what the administration called an “illegitimate and unconstitutional” impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. 

The eight-page letter to the House Democratic leaders, written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, claimed that the probe has surpassed the president’s due-process rights. The letter threatens to cease cooperation with Capitol Hill on key oversight matters, saying that the impeachment inquiry has processed in a "manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process."

"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," Cipollone wrote.

The White House is objecting that the House did not formally vote to begin the impeachment inquiry into Trump and is also attacking the conduct of House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff.

Pelosi has insisted the House is well within its rules to conduct oversight of the executive branch under the Constitution regardless of a vote.

US President Donald Trump looks on after awarding former Attorney General Edwin Meese with the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC on October 8, 2019. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty I

"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 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," the document said.

The letter comes amid the White House launching a high-stakes strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump, setting up a constitutional clash with the executive and legislative branch of government. 

The letter also comes the same day Trump intensified his fight with Congress with the State Department blocking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, from testifying behind closed doors about the president's dealings with Ukraine. Sondland was scheduled to appear before a House panel conducting the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Sondland's attorney, Robert Luskin, says his client is "profoundly disappointed" that he won't be able to testify.

Schiff called Sondland's no-show "additional strong evidence" of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that will only strengthen Democrats' case.

"By preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation's security," Schiff said. "For this impeachment inquiry we are determined to find answers."

A whistleblower's complaint and text messages released by another envoy portray Sondland as a potentially important witness in allegations that the Republican president sought to dig up dirt on a Democratic rival in Ukraine and other countries in the name of foreign policy.

Pelosi echoed Schiff's comments at an event in Seattle, saying it was an "abuse of power" for Trump to thwart witness testimony.

Later on Tuesday afternoon, House Democrats subpoenaed Sondland. 

Three House committees are demanding that Sondland appear at a deposition Oct. 16. They are also demanding that he produce documents, including communications from his personal device that have been turned over to the State Department but not to Congress. Earlier, Schiff said the department was withholding those communications.

Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings did previously say they would subpoena Sondland for testimony and for documents. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.