Donald Trump is taking all his impeachment marbles and going home to the residence where he can stew, rage tweet, and gorge on conspiracy theories in peace without being bothered by that coequal branch of government known as Congress or, for that matter, the U.S. Constitution.
In a letter addressed Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairs of three key committees, White House counsel Pat Cipollone makes a purely political argument devoid of any reasonable legal rationale that rejects the House impeachment inquiry as fundamentally “illegitimate” and declares Trump the ultimate unimpeachable, unindictable, uninvestigable sovereign. In short, the Executive Branch won’t be giving congressional investigators a GD thing.
In the first of three sections, Cipollone argues that the House inquiry is “Constitutionally Invalid” because Congress has violated “due process,” which is something Trump isn’t actually entitled to in the context of impeachment. In fact, the Constitution states the House “shall have the sole Power to Impeach.” The House decides that process, not the president.
Just to give a window into how bananas the argument is, here’s what Cipollone wrote in the opening of the letter.
You have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans. You have conducted your proceedings in secret. You have violated civil liberties and the separation of powers by threatening Executive Branch officials, claiming that you will seek to punish those who exercise fundamental constitutional rights and prerogatives. All of this violates the Constitution, the rule of law, and every past precedent.
Yeah, that’s all bonkers, folks. Trump isn’t guaranteed any of that stuff. In fact, House impeachment is a fact-gathering process designed to inform the body as to whether to charge the president. The trial-type stuff that Cipollone cites above is only minimally applicable to what the Senate does, which is where a president is tried for what the House decides to charge him with, if it charges at all.
Moving on. In the second section, Cipollone dismisses the House inquiry for seeking to “Reverse the Election of 2016.”
“The effort to impeach President Trump—without regard to any evidence of his actions in office—is a naked political strategy that began the day he was inaugurated, and perhaps even before,” writes Cipollone. Actually, the whole point of impeachment is evidence gathering, thus the word “inquiry.”
Cipollone continues, suggesting House Democrats have embraced impeachment because they were doooomed in 2020. “The Founders, however, did not create the extraordinary mechanism of impeachment so it could be used by a political party that feared for its prospects against the sitting President in the next election. The decision as to who will be elected President in 2020 should rest with the people of the United States, exactly where the Constitution places it,” he writes.
Besides the fact that Trump is despised by a solid majority of Americans and losing in every hypothetical matchup with Democrats’ top-tier candidates, Cipollone may want to inform Trump that 2020 is supposed to be decided by Americans because Trump is pretty sure that it’s supposed to be decided by Ukraine, China, Russia, and any other foreign entity willing to rig the election on his behalf.
Cipollone then attempts in the third section to turn the tables on House Democrats’ handling of the inquiry, including Rep. Adam Schiff’s parody of Trump’s call during a hearing and their claim that Schiff’s office acted improperly when the whistleblower sought informal guidance on how to properly move forward with filing a complaint.
At base, there are so many bogus claims in this letter that it’s almost difficult to wrap one’s mind around. One problem is the White House seems to have literally zero grasp of what the Constitution even says about the impeachment process and the differing functions of the House and the Senate regarding removal of a president.
But the upshot of this letter (along with other actions taken by the administration) is that Trump is now effectively acting as a king, as former Justice Department official Neal Katyal observed. According to the administration’s arguments, Trump can’t be indicted, he also can’t investigated for his crimes, and now he can’t be impeached either. In sum:
Trump Administration: The reason why a sitting President can't be indicted is because the Constitution expressly creates an alternative, political process for presidential misconduct.
Also Trump Administration: That alternative process is too political and entirely illegitimate.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) October 8, 2019
Cipollone, charged with protecting the Office of the President, has penned a piece of political propaganda designed to enrage Trump’s base at how unfairly he’s being treated using specious legal jargon that in fact bears no resemblance to the basic pillars of the U.S. justice system.
As Kellyanne Conway’s husband George tweeted, “I cannot fathom how any self-respecting member of the bar could affix his name to this letter. It’s pure hackery, and it disgraces the profession.”
In other words: It’s classic Trump.