Calling the impeachment proceedings “completely baseless”, the White House on Friday dismissed a Democratic invitation for Donald Trump to participate in hearings in the House of Representatives, which the president has framed as a partisan escapade.
In a letter addressed to the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, gave no indication that Trump planned to send a lawyer to represent him or attempt to call witnesses. Cipollone’s letter did not totally foreclose on the possibility but the letter was sent as a deadline for the president to participate passed.
“House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade,” Cipollone wrote. “You should end this inquiry now.”
Nadler responded that the committee was “disappointed”.
“We gave President Trump a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us,” Nadler said. “After listening to him complain about the impeachment process, we had hoped that he might accept our invitation.
“Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair.”
Trump’s non-participation is unprecedented. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the two presidents to face impeachment proceedings in the 20th century, both deployed lawyers and submitted testimony and documents in their defense.
Trump’s White House would be expected to play a significant role if the current proceedings reach the Republican-controlled Senate, where a trial would take place if the House passes articles of impeachment.
“Whatever course you choose,” Cipollone wrote to Nadler, “as the president has recently stated: ‘If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.’”
The House judiciary committee is scheduled to meet on Monday to take testimony about evidence collected in investigations of Trump’s activities with regard to Ukraine and on his alleged obstruction of the investigation of former special counsel Robert Mueller, which concerned Russian interference in the 2016 election and links between Trump and Moscow.
The committee is expected to draft and approve articles of impeachment by as early as the end of next week, setting up a vote on whether to impeach Trump by the full House before the end of the year.
Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power “for his own personal political benefit at the expense of US national security by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for the announcement of an investigation into his political rival”, as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, put it on Thursday.
Republicans have accused the Democrats of rushing the impeachment process and not giving Trump sufficient opportunity to defend himself.
Adopting articles of impeachment, Cipollone wrote on Friday, would be “a reckless abuse of power” and would “constitute the most unjust, highly partisan and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our nation’s history”.
Democrats point out that the rules for the current proceedings mostly mirror those used in past impeachments and say expeditious action is important because Trump’s alleged efforts to undermine the 2020 election are ongoing.
In an earlier letter to Nadler, Cipollone had left open the possibility of White House participation in the committee process “if you afford the administration the ability to do so meaningfully”.