The White House has long embraced a strategy of stonewalling House Democrats’ various investigations into Donald Trump, from refusing to hand over the president’s tax returns to directing former White House Counsel Don McGahn not to testify before Congress. Now, three weeks after reports of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump sought an investigation into Joe Biden and his family, and two weeks after Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry, the Trump administration is doubling down. How House Democrats respond in this moment will have significant implications for their impeachment efforts.
On Tuesday, in an eight-page letter to House Democratic leaders, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone vowed that, from here on out, administration officials would not be cooperating with the investigation. Released just hours after the Trump administration blocked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before Congress, Cipollone’s letter says the administration won’t comply with the investigation in part because Democrats have not held a formal vote to open one. (Democrats are not legally required to hold a vote at this stage of the investigation, although the House did vote on impeachment inquiries for Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.) In the letter, Cipollone also writes that the probe “lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation,” though the Constitution says that impeachment proceedings are purely the prerogative of the House.