So it’s come to this: In barely two weeks, the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump has already devolved into the gravest game of constitutional chicken in decades. As of this morning, each side remains frozen in place by the White House’s blanket defiance of congressional demands for documents and witness testimony about Trump’s requests for Ukrainian help in investigating his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden. History suggests the road ahead may be both long and winding.
Just hours before European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland was to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, word came that the administration had barred him from cooperating with what Trump called a “totally compromised kangaroo court.” By day’s end, in an eight-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three committee chairmen, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone had escalated Trump’s resistance to all-out war, denouncing the House’s demands as “baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” and declining all cooperation with “your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
In one sense, the White House’s action is numbingly familiar. From Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the current congressional inquiry into Trump’s solicitation of foreign help in the 2020 election, the pattern is the same: the nation’s legal and political institutions invoke the most solemn processes and practices of American democracy with thunder and lightning and drumrolls and drama … and Trump responds, in effect, So what? The president’s loyal ally, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has promised to open a new ring in the ongoing circus by summoning Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for sympathetic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—an inquiry that will likely only further muddy public understanding of the Ukraine affair.