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White House prepares formal objection to impeachment probe

President Trump on the South Lawn
President Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday.
(Associated Press)

President Trump said Friday the White House is preparing a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally objecting to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry without an official vote. It’s expected to say the administration won’t cooperate with the probe without that vote — but he also said he believed it would pass.

Trump acknowledged that Democrats in the House “have the votes” to begin a formal impeachment inquiry, even if they don’t have enough votes to convict him in the Senate. But he also said he believed the move would backfire politically.

“I really believe that they’re going to pay a tremendous price at the polls,” he said.

Pelosi (D-San Francisco) last week announced that the House was beginning the inquiry but didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

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Trump allies have suggested for days that since it has not held a formal vote, the House is merely conducting standard oversight, entitling lawmakers to a lesser level of disclosure from the administration. The Justice Department raised similar arguments last month, though that was before Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation.

In a letter Thursday to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), Pelosi said, “There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.”

The White House released notes of a phone call showing that President Trump not only asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, he also urged the foreign leader to look into CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that did work for the Democrats in the 2016 election. The House has opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

There’s no procedure defined in the Constitution for launching an impeachment inquiry, leaving many questions about obstruction untested in court, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University.

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“There’s no specification in the Constitution in what does and does not constitute a more formal impeachment inquiry or investigation,” he said. “One can argue if they’re in an impeachment investigation, they’re in an impeachment.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, dismissed the entire premise of the impeachment inquiry, which is centered on Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his possible political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The president was not tasking Ukraine to investigate a political opponent,” Giuliani told the Associated Press on Thursday. “He wanted an investigation into a seriously conflicted former vice president of the United States who damaged the reputation of the United States in Ukraine.”

Some Democrats have worried that political backlash to the drive to impeach President Trump could cost them control of the House. But the unpredictable issue could pose a bigger threat to the Republican majority in the Senate.

Democrats have sought to use the impeachment investigation to bolster their case that they are entitled to have access to all sorts of documents from the administration, most recently secret grand jury information that underpinned special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They have also threatened to use the administration’s refusal to turn over documents and make witnesses available to potentially form an article of impeachment accusing the president of obstruction of the congressional inquiry.

It is unclear if Democrats would wade into a lengthy legal fight with the administration over documents and testimony — or if they would just move straight to considering articles of impeachment.

Pelosi has sought to avoid a vote on the impeachment probe for the same reason she resisted, for months, liberal calls to try to remove the president: It would force moderate House Democrats to make a politically risky vote.

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Kurt Volker speaks to the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees as Democrats begin their impeachment inquiry in earnest.

The White House, meanwhile, is trying to force the question on Democrats, as it seeks to raise the political cost for their impeachment investigation and to animate the president’s supporters ahead of the 2020 election.


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