The White House on Tuesday called the House impeachment probe “partisan and unconstitutional” and said President Trump will not cooperate until Democrats come up with a fair process that respects his rights.
The move came hours after the administration blocked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before a closed-door session of the impeachment probe.
Democrats said preventing Mr. Sondland from testifying was only adding fuel to their case for impeachment on the basis of obstructing an investigation, and they issued a subpoena to compel him to appear. But the White House said the House is operating without any rules and, until it writes guidelines that are fair to all sides, the president and his team won’t play ball.
“President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process. Your unprecedented actions have left the President with no choice,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three Democratic committee chairmen. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the executive branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
He said the Democrats’ impeachment effort seems less an attempt to defend the Constitution and more an effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen.”
His eight-page letter is so far the administration’s most scathing and thorough rebuttal to the inquiry, all but daring House Democrats to advance articles of impeachment.
The letter capped a day of fast-moving developments on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump on Twitter called the probe “a totally compromised kangaroo court,” and Mrs. Pelosi returned fire by accusing the president of “obstructing justice, abusing power and diminishing the office of the presidency” over the Sondland matter.
Mrs. Pelosi and Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were among those who received the eight-page letter.
The speaker posted a reply to the letter Tuesday evening on her site calling it “manifestly wrong” and “simply another unlawful attempt to hide the facts of the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to pressure foreign powers to intervene in the 2020 elections.”
“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the President’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
The White House said it has tried to cooperate — most notably by releasing the text of the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was the subject of a whistleblower complaint.
The transcript showed Mr. Trump asking for an investigation of corruption involving 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who had a high-paying job on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president. The transcript did not, however, show the president threaten to withhold U.S. military aid unless Mr. Zelensky complied, as the whistleblower alleged.
“Never before in our history has the House of Representatives — under the control of either political party — taken the American people down the dangerous path you seem determined to pursue,” Mr. Cipollone wrote.
“Your highly partisan and unconstitutional effort threatens grave and lasting damage to our democratic institutions, to our system of free elections, and to the American people,” he said in the letter, addressed to Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel of New York and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.
Democrats hoped Mr. Sondland would be a star witness and shed light on whether the president used a $391 million military aid package as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Mr. Sondland reported directly to the president on Ukrainian-U.S. relations.
Text messages turned over to Congress last week revealed that Mr. Sondland and another official wrote a statement for Mr. Zelensky expressing his commitment to investigate the Biden family.
Mr. Sondland was eager to testify, according to his attorney.
Republicans on Capitol Hill said they, too, were eager to hear from the ambassador, though they said they expected him to back up Mr. Trump’s claim that there was no quid pro quo.
The Republican lawmakers said that despite their disappointment, they agreed with the administration’s move to block the ambassador’s testimony at this point.
“It’s based on the unfair and partisan process that Mr. Schiff has been running,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican.
Mr. Jordan said Kurt Volker, another State Department official who testified last week, was treated poorly by the Democrats and they did not want to subject Mr. Sondland to the same treatment.
House Republicans say if Democrats want to conduct an impeachment inquiry they should hold a vote in the full House and write rules to govern the proceedings, such as rules for sharing evidence, calling witnesses and granting access to the president’s team.
Those were all standard features of past impeachment inquiries, Republicans said, but Democrats have not embraced them this time.
Mrs. Pelosi, who unilaterally declared the impeachment probe last month, has brushed aside Republicans’ suggestions on how to achieve a fair probe. Yet she is also wary of her new majority being defined by the push for impeachment. In a letter to her Democratic troops on Tuesday, she urged them to continue to talk about legislation they hope to pass.
“We must legislate strongly, investigate fairly and litigate strategically,” she said.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who have the majority in the upper chamber, vowed to use their platform to balance the House’s one-sided inquiry.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he would allow Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, to come before his committee to discuss the “disturbing allegations” of corruption in Ukraine.
“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” Mr. Graham tweeted.
• Gabriella Muñoz and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.
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