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.
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’s standing to investigate Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
In his letter, Cipollone repeated a claim the White House and Trump’s business have begun making: that 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.”
“We will subpoena whoever we have to subpoena,” he said.
Cipollone said the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s “exhaustive” report now makes Congress’ questions moot.
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.
Joshua Geltzer, a former Justice Department official who now heads a constitutional advocacy group, said the White House 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 linked to Trump is intrusive.