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story.lead_photo.caption “This is ridiculous, it would make the president above the law, and of course we totally reject it,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Wednesday of the White House counsel’s letter.

WASHINGTON -- The White House's top lawyer told the House Judiciary Committee chairman Wednesday that Congress has no right to a "do-over" of the special counsel's investigation of President Donald Trump and refused a broad demand for records and testimony from dozens of current and former White House staff members.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone's letter to committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler constitutes a sweeping rejection -- not just of Nadler's request for White House records, but of Congress' standing to investigate Trump for possible obstruction of justice. In his letter, Cipollone said Congress is not a law enforcement body and does not have a legitimate purpose to investigate the questions it is pursuing.

But Cipollone stopped short of asserting executive privilege. Instead, he told Nadler he would consider a narrowed request if the chairman spells out the legislative purpose and legal support for the information he is seeking.

"Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized 'do-over' of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice," Cipollone wrote.

In an interview, Nadler called the White House argument "preposterous."

"The White House is making the outrageous claim that a president cannot be held accountable in any way to the American people," he said, adding: "This is ridiculous, it would make the president above the law, and of course we totally reject it. We will subpoena whoever we have to subpoena."

He said, for the first time, that the committee was seriously considering "very large" fines for witnesses who do not comply.

Cipollone said the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report now makes Congress' questions moot. He stressed that probe was "exhaustive" -- the product of 2,800 subpoenas, 500 executed search warrants and 500 witness interviews -- and that the president supported the report's release "in the interest of transparency."

"The appropriate course is for the Committee to discontinue the inquiry," he wrote. "Unfortunately, it appears that you have already decided to press ahead with a duplicative investigation, including by issuing subpoenas, to replow the same ground the Special Counsel has already covered."

Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. He did not rule on whether Trump obstructed justice, although Attorney General William Barr said the report shows that the president did not.

The White House's firm stand represents another escalation in the standoff between the White House and House Democrats. Trump and his allies are working to block more than 20 separate investigations into his actions as president, his personal finances and his administration's policies, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Nadler in early March requested documents from 81 Trump allies or Trump-related entities as part of a broad investigation into whether Trump abused his power, obstructed justice and engaged in public corruption.

The letters went to both current and former official and campaign staff members as well as top Trump Organization officials and Trump's family members.

White House-connected people who received requests from the committee include former White House Counsel Donald McGahn, former adviser Steve Bannon, former communications chief Hope Hicks, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and current adviser Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law.

Joshua Geltzer, a former Justice Department official who now heads a constitutional advocacy group, said the White House's assertion that Congress does not have a right to the information is a "mind-blowing" claim.

"These aren't peripheral interests of the U.S. Congress," he said. "They're core oversight responsibilities -- at the heart of our legislative branch checking our executive branch and even just understanding it."

In the Wednesday letter, Cipollone argued that the request for testimony and records from 81 individuals and agencies is intrusive and seeks to pull back the covers on reams of confidential discussions and sensitive law enforcement material that is normally shielded by executive privilege.

The White House counsel's office said its objection applies to current and former officials whose information it argues is technically the property of the White House.

At least two of the people who received requests for information from the committee said Wednesday that they were not going to provide any documents or information while the White House objects to such cooperation. They said they fear getting on the wrong side of Trump -- and the professional damage it could cause.

"What choice do you have?" said one of these people, a former senior White House official who requested anonymity to describe the strategy toward handling the congressional demand.

The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed Tuesday to a limited interview next month with the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. Democrats are also seeking Mueller's testimony, though a date has not been set.

Democrats are also clashing with the administration over access to Mueller's full report. Trump for the first time earlier this month invoked the principle of executive privilege, claiming the right to block lawmakers from the unredacted document about Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.

The Judiciary panel voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress after he defied its subpoena for the unredacted report. Another contempt resolution could be coming soon after the House Intelligence Committee issued a separate subpoena, also for the unredacted version. The deadline for the Justice Department to comply was Wednesday.

Cipollone said Nadler's committee has been eager to try to publicly tar the White House as uncooperative, pushing to hold officials in contempt, while ignoring the legal flaws in its demands.

"[T]he Committee rushed to vote on contempt for failing to provide 100% and immediate compliance with a subpoena that seeks millions of pages of documents from a prosecutor's files," he wrote. "Moreover, the Committee -- for the first time in American history -- has voted to recommend that the Attorney General be held in contempt because he refused to violate the law by turning over grand-jury materials that he may not lawfully disclose."

Information for this article was contributed by Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade of The Washington Post; and by Jonathan Lemire, Catherine Lucey and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press.

Photo by The Washington Post/Jabin Botsford
White House counsel Pat Cipollone is shown in this file photo.

A Section on 05/16/2019

Print Headline: Congress denied access to White House records


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Archived Comments

  • cwbird
    May 16, 2019 at 5:49 a.m.

    I am most glad to know that the White House is denying the documents. While the actions of the Democrats does not rise to the letter of the law concerning double jeopardy, it certainly rises to the level of the spirit of that law as stated in the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment also blocks the government from requiring a person to testify against himself. The House Democrats are doing everything that they can to circumvent these things.

    Hopefully, the voters across this country will see how scurrilous their actions are and put them out of office in the coming elections. Ideally, voters in various states will have recall petitions and elections and recall these scurrilous politicians.

  • Waitjustaminute
    May 16, 2019 at 6:30 a.m.

    "In an interview, Nadler called the White House argument "preposterous."
    "The White House is making the outrageous claim that a president cannot be held accountable in any way to the American people," he said, adding: "This is ridiculous . ."
    = = = = = = = = =
    What's ridiculous is Nadler thinking that the President of the United States works for him. What happened to "co-equal branches of government?" The Executive branch is one-third. Congress is one-third, which makes the House of Representatives half of one-third. Yet, Nadler acts like his committee runs the Executive branch. "In his letter, Cipollone said Congress is not a law enforcement body and does not have a legitimate purpose to investigate the questions it is pursuing." It's about time someone told them that, and that's way more polite than I would have been at this point.
    = = = = = = = = = = =
    Of course the President is "accountable to the American people." It's called an election, and it's now 18 months away. He's accountable to the whole country, not to a partisan hack like Jerry Nadler.

  • Illinoisroy
    May 16, 2019 at 7:42 a.m.

    Co-equal branches! This administration is leading us down the path to totalitarianism.

  • mozarky2
    May 16, 2019 at 8:18 a.m.

    That Nadlering Nabob of Nihilism appears to be in a constipational crisis.

  • hah406
    May 16, 2019 at 8:24 a.m.

    Sorry, but congress absolutely has the right to investigate the president and hold him accountable. If a sitting president cannot be indicted for crimes, then the only remedy is via congress. Or are you Trump fans saying the president is suddenly above the law? Mueller clearly laid out multiple instances of obstruction of justice for which anyone other than a sitting president would have been indicted. You all didn't look the other way when you impeached Clinton. Why, suddenly now that it is Trump do you think there is nothing here?

  • Skeptic1
    May 16, 2019 at 8:36 a.m.

    The paper tiger goes down in flames, buh-bye. Congress has the power of "oversight," not political witch hunts, the White House counsel is correct and they need to stand their ground. The 2020 election is rapidly approaching and the Dem controlled Congress has nothing to show the voters as to why they should stay in power. Wouldn't it be delicious if the Dems lost power in 2020?

  • 3WorldState1
    May 16, 2019 at 9:11 a.m.

    GOP used to say the supported the constitution. It’s obvious they don’t.
    Remember when they refused their constitutional duty to advise and consent a Supreme Court justice for 14-18 months? And now this.
    GOP is all hat. Trump is a traitor and a liar.
    No one will still tell me why Trump lied through the entire investigation and refused to sit down with the police. Seems to me congress should be involved. We also know Barr is a hack ( I saw his hearing)

  • Skeptic1
    May 16, 2019 at 9:41 a.m. the Constitution and the Federalist Papers before you make such ignorant statements like that. Nadler is backing down because he knows he is wrong.

  • SeanJohn
    May 16, 2019 at 10:09 a.m.

    It appears that HAH and ILLINOISROY have already forgotten the Mueller report. Probably because the outcome isn’t the one they had envisioned. The president was held accountable. He was found to have not conspired with Russia. As for obstruction, Mueller left it up to up to the DOJ because he couldn’t come to a conclusion. The DOJ concluded there was not enough evidence to indict. Now the Dems in the House, who are lawyers, not investigators, think they can investigate better than Mueller and his expert investigators. It’s a dog and pony show. What happens if they decide that Trump did obstruct justice? The only crime Congress can enforce is contempt of Congress. So, do they take their case to the DOJ and ask them to change their minds? Or, do they use their case for impeachment? Nadler talks about “checking” the White House, oversight of the White House, and holding the president accountable? Who has oversight and the job of holding Congress accountable. In a government of co-equal branches, it appears that Nadler is saying the House is the Supreme governing body.

  • Skeptic1
    May 16, 2019 at 10:13 a.m. on. And, "We the people" hold Congress accountable by voting a straight Republican ticket in 2020. How anyone stepping over used needles, passed out drug addicts, and human feces on the streets of San Francisco can vote for Nancy Pelosi is truly astounding.