White House Baits Congress to Start Impeachment Proceedings

White House counsel Pat Cipollone has written a letter to Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler in response to documents requested in relation to an investigation “into the alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration.”

The first couple of pages of Cipollone’s letter have been written with the clear intention of making it seem like the Trump administration has been accommodating on all fronts when it comes to working with both congress and the special counsel’s investigation. All of it is meant to impress a judge in the very likely event that these matters are taken to court.

In the end however, the response from the White House is to refuse to provide any of the information that has been requested. But Cipollone goes way beyond a refusal to comply and takes the unprecedented position of challenging congress’s standing to investigate Trump at all.

The letter repeatedly states that “the requests run afoul of the Constitution by encroaching upon authorities that the Constitution assigns exclusively to the Executive Branch.” Cipollone further states that “the Committee’s inquiries must be tied to a valid legislative purpose—that is, they must be tied to evaluating or formulating potential legislation on some subject within the Committee’s authority.” It is within that context that Cipollone suggests that the House Judiciary Committee is wrongfully attempting to usurp law enforcement functions that have already been completed by the special counsel and that they don’t get a “do-over” on the Mueller probe.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a response like this illuminates what the strategy has been all along. While Mueller completed a criminal investigation, Trump and his lawyers have always relied on the fact that he would follow Justice Department protocols which prohibit the president from being indicted. So no matter what the investigation found, they could rest assured that Trump wouldn’t be charged. Now they can claim that the criminal investigation is complete and congress has no authority to take up the matter. Isn’t that a nice little closed feedback loop to protect the president?

But another thing that screams out from Cipollone’s letter is that the one “valid legislative purpose” congress could constitutionally undertake would be impeachment. All of his arguments against cooperation go out the window if that is the purpose of the requests. I’m not suggesting that the White House would comply if these documents were requested for the purpose of an impeachment proceeding—just that they’d have to construct a whole new argument.

It is hard to resist the idea that the intent of this letter is to bait Nadler into launching an impeachment hearing. It is worth pondering why they would do that.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.