As the White House pushes back hard against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, legal experts are weighing in on the validity of the objections raised by the administration — including what rights the president has, and whether lawmakers should vote in the House first.
The White House on Wednesday issued a defiant letter, saying it would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry looking into Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Democrats claim that Trump urged Zelensky to investigate Vice President Joe Biden as part of a quid pro quo involving the withholding of U.S. military aid.
While the White House released both the transcript of the call and the complaint from a whistleblower who alerted the intelligence community’s inspector general, Democrats in the House announced a formal impeachment inquiry. But White House Counsel Pat Cipollone slammed what he called a “partisan and unconstitutional inquiry” and said the White House would not cooperate. Democrats have warned that a refusal to cooperate by the White House could be a criminal act of obstruction.
As both sides stake out their claims ahead of a bruising impeachment fight, legal experts note that impeachment is not clearly defined by the framers of the Constitution.
“Both House Democrats and the White House are making political arguments…Impeachment is a political process, and so both sides are trying to win in the court of public opinion,” David Rivkin, a lawyer in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations in the White House Counsel’s Office and Department of Justice, told Fox News. “However, the House’s political arguments happen to be false and White House’s political arguments happen to be meritorious.”
Attorney George Conway, a fierce opponent of Trump, described the letter as “an impeachable offense” by itself. Harvard law scholar Laurence Tribe said the “stonewalling” by the White House, as well as the administration’s decision not to let E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland appear at a deposition, “signals another ground for his impeachment: obstruction of Congress.”