Donald Trump appears to have thrown down the gauntlet before House Democrats, announcing Tuesday that he and his administration will no longer cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.
The writing was on the wall Tuesday morning when Trump abruptly yanked his permission to have the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, testify before House lawmakers about what he knew about Trump asking Ukraine to dig up dirt on his Democratic rival Joe Biden, as the New York Times reports:
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”
A little later Tuesday, the White House announced it would no longer be playing nice with investigators in a letter to House Democratic leadership signed by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, according to the Times:
“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” said the letter signed by Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. “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.”
As the Associated Press explains, Trump and his team are making hay over the fact that unlike impeachment inquiries involving former Presidents Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, the House has not taken a full vote on the record on whether to start the Trump inquiry.
Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a likely bid to protect politically vulnerable Democrats in more conservative districts, has simply announced that the inquiry is happening. And, according to the Times, there is no constitutional rule that says Pelosi has to have a full House vote to launch an impeachment probe.
In any case, Trump’s defiance may lead to the very thing he claims to be trying to avoid: being outright impeached.
Soon after the White House’s announcement of what they weren’t gonna do, the AP reports:
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted in response that Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the inquiry signals an attitude that “the president is above the law.”
Or, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it, per the Times:
“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”
Sondland is considered a key witness in the House impeachment investigation into whether Trump used the power of his office to try to get something of value for himself—help for his re-election campaign.
Sondland is a hotel mogul and major contributor to Trump’s campaign who was named ambassador to the European Union. And for some reason, Trump sent him to Ukraine to do his bidding this past summer despite Ukraine not being a part of the E.U.
Anyhoo, as the Times explains, Sondland spoke directly with Trump during his trip, including:
before and after Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to “do us a favor” and investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and conspiracy theories about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.
In addition, text messages between Sondland and other U.S officials were provided to House lawmakers with some, shall we say, interesting info. Per the Times:
The texts also showed that the top American diplomat based in Ukraine believed that Mr. Trump was holding up $391 million in security aid as leverage for persuading Ukraine to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., the diplomat, wrote in early September.
After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.
“Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Mr. Sondland wrote in the messages. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
Mr. Sondland added, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
The House remains eager to have Sondland expound upon this exchange and others.