White House makes it official: Trump is above the law
As support for impeachment grows, the president declares he will not cooperate in any way with the congressional probe. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

The White House essentially claimed yesterday that the executive branch is the only part of government that matters and that it will not cooperate in any way with what it said is an “illegitimate” impeachment process.

That includes its refusal to provide any documents, material, or witnesses that Congress is seeking.

In open defiance of the U.S. Constitution, Trump lawyers yesterday sent a 7-page letter to House leaders stating the White House will in no way cooperate with Congress on the impeachment matter. The letter was sent as public opinion in favor of impeachment continues to mount, according to numerous national polls. The swing in favor of impeachment began last week with a complaint by a whistleblower that Trump was, in violation of the Constitution, trading congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine for favors by the Ukrainians that would benefit him politically.

Since that time it has been learned that through Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump was also squeezing Ukraine to put his pals on the board of the country’s public gas company, a move that would benefit the president financially. Those moves too are prohibited by the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.

“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone declared in the letter to Congress.

Impeachment, of course, is provided for in the Constitution and due process protections are required under the law in any trial in the U.S. The impeachment process in the House is essentially an investigation by the prosecutors, the Congress and the people in this case. It is not a trial. That trial comes later in the Senate if the House votes to impeach.

Trump’s lawyers are hoping their letter will convince the public that the current proceedings amount to an unfair trial which, of course, they are not.

In its stonewalling aimed at delay, the White House is not allowing any additional witnesses, it said, to appear before the Congress or to even send the Congress any documents it demands.

The White House is also making the irrelevant argument that the House has not voted to begin an impeachment investigation into Trump. The only thing the House is required to vote on, of course, is the actual articles of impeachment. If the inquiry results in no such articles being promulgated then there is no vote and, of course, no trial. If the inquiry results in charges, or articles as they would be called, then there would be a vote and a trial in the Senate.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in response to the Trump letter that the president’s refusal to cooperate with Congress amounts to saying that “the president is above the law.”

“Mr. President, you are not above the law,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday night. “You will be held accountable.” Exactly how, she did not say.

All the arguments made in the Trump letter about what the Constitution says Congress can and cannot do regarding impeachment are absurd because the Constitution says very little about the specifics but a great deal about who has the power to decide what. It states unequivocally that the House has the sole power of impeachment, and that the Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials. It specifies that a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” if supported by a two-thirds Senate vote. Beyond that, it says very little.

Trump is combining his hard-line obstructionist approach to the impeachment inquiry with continued appeals to his base to feel sorry for him. “People understand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt,” he said earlier this week. “I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody has done it for the first two and a half years.”

Yesterday Trump blocked Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before Congress. Congress was expecting him because he had agreed to appear but he got orders from the White House shortly after midnight on his appearance date to stay away from Congress.

Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “profoundly disappointed” that he wouldn’t be able to testify. And Schiff said Sondland’s no-show was “yet additional strong evidence” of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that will only strengthen a possible impeachment case.

The House followed up Tuesday afternoon with subpoenas for Sondland’s testimony and records.

Sondland, a millionaire pal of Trump, got the job as a reward for a $1 million contribution to the Trump inauguration. William Taylor, the man in charge of the U.S. embassy in Kiev, had complained to him that it was “crazy” that Trump was trying to make aid contingent upon political favors for him. Sondland took five hours to get back to him, during which time he consulted with Trump about an acceptable answer to Taylor. The answer was that there was “no quid pro quo” involved in Trump’s strong-arming of Ukraine, which even the summary of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, released by the White House itself, clearly contradicted.

Meanwhile, Trump is reaching into his basket of down and dirty operatives to help him weather the storm. Former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of Benghazi fame is being brought in. Gowdy is a favorite of the president because of his prolonged attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With all his efforts and alleged legal expertise Gowdy never uncovered a single act of wrongdoing by Clinton, however.

Pelosi said preventing Sondland from talking to Congress was obstruction and “abuse of power” by the president – in itself enough for impeachment.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.