White House won’t participate in first Judiciary impeachment hearing

The White House on Sunday informed the House Judiciary Committee it will not participate in Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry hearing but did not rule out taking part in future hearings.

The administration in a five-page letter to the committee ripped the process as “highly partisan” and accused the panel’s Democratic chairman of providing little information about Wednesday’s hearing.

“We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

“More importantly, an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process,” Cipollone wrote. “Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing.”

The committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday titled “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment.” The panel will hear from legal scholars as Democrats weigh whether the evidence turned up in their weeks-long impeachment inquiry warrants the drafting of articles aimed at removing the president from office. 

Cipollone in his letter accused Nadler of purposely scheduling the hearing so that it will run concurrently with President Trump’s trip to London for a NATO summit. The president himself accused Democrats of “undercutting our Country” in a tweet noting the overlap.

Nadler also asked Trump in a letter sent Friday to provide notice to the committee by Dec. 6 as to whether he plans to mount a defense. Cipollone on Sunday accused Nadler of creating “the false appearance of providing the President some rudimentary process” by releasing no information about plans for upcoming hearings.

“You have given no information regarding your plans, set arbitrary deadlines, and then demanded a response, all to create the false appearance of providing the President some rudimentary process,” Cipollone wrote. 

The White House counsel said the White House “fully reserves the right to respond further” if Nadler releases more information about the committee’s plans for the Dec. 4 hearing and that he would respond separately to the broader question by the deadline of Dec. 6 — this coming Friday. 

Nadler in a statement on Monday called the White House’s decision not to participate in the panel’s first hearing “unfortunate.”

“[A]llowing the President to participate has been a priority for the House from the outset, he said.

“The American people deserve transparency,” he added. “If the President thinks the call was ‘perfect’ and there is nothing to hide then he would turn over the thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress, allow witnesses to testify instead of blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims, and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.”

House Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to pursue investigations that could benefit him politically. Lawmakers are examining whether the president tied a White House meeting or aid for Ukraine to those investigations.

The House Intelligence Committee concluded its public hearings prior to the Thanksgiving recess after it heard testimony from 12 current and former administration officials and has spent the Thanksgiving recess drafting a report of its findings. 

Lawmakers on the Intelligence panel are expected to begin reviewing a draft version of the report Monday evening and will vote at a business meeting Tuesday on whether to adopt the report, which would be sent to the Judiciary Committee thereafter.

The White House has thus far refused to cooperate with the investigation entirely, accusing Democrats of an unfair process and a partisan attempt to reverse the results of the 2016 presidential election. Several senior administration officials have declined to testify, and multiple agencies have stonewalled Democratic requests for documents and communications.

But as the process shifts to the Judiciary Committee, the White House may alter its strategy. Trump has repeatedly complained that he has not received due process, a message echoed by his Republican allies in Congress.

The House approved a resolution laying out the next steps for the impeachment inquiry in a party-line vote at the end of October. The resolution allows Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.) — the panel’s top Republican — to request to subpoena testimony or documents but gives Nadler the power to veto his requests. If Nadler prevents such a move, Collins could then refer the matter to the full committee for a decision.

A related resolution says that Trump’s counsel should be invited to observe and participate in the Judiciary hearings — including by asking questions subject to Nadler’s instructions — as well as to respond to the proceedings either orally or in writing as decided by Nadler. 

Cipollone indicated in Sunday’s letter that the White House would continue to hammer that same argument for the length of the impeachment process but left open the possibility of having a representative for Trump attend future hearings.

“It is too late to cure the profound procedural deficiencies that have tainted this entire inquiry,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, if you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the President, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully.”

Cipollone also asked Nadler to answer a series of questions in order for the White House to “assess” its “ability to participate in future proceedings.”

Cipollone asked Nadler whether he would allow for fact witnesses to be called — including witnesses requested by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the Intelligence panel’s top Republican, that were declined by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — as well as whether he planned to allow Judiciary panel lawmakers and the president’s attorney to cross-examine witnesses and whether committee Republicans would be allowed to summon their own witnesses. 

–This report was updated on Dec. 2 at 2:26 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Devin Nunes Donald Trump Doug Collins Impeachment Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler

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