By Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Tuesday it will halt any and all cooperation with what it termed the “illegitimate” impeachment probe by House Democrats, sharpening the constitutional clash between President Donald Trump and Congress.

Trump attorneys sent a letter to House leaders bluntly stating White House refusal to participate in the inquiry that was given a boost by last week’s release of a whistleblower’s complaint that the president sought political favors from Ukraine.

“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 wrote.

That means no additional witnesses under administration purview will be permitted to appear in front of Congress or comply with document requests, a senior official said.

The White House is objecting that the House has not voted to begin an impeachment investigation. It also claims that Trump’s due process rights are being violated.

The Constitution states 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. But it offers little guidance beyond that.

The White House letter marks the beginning of a new all-out strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump.

Early Tuesday, Trump escalated his fight with Congress by blocking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador and Oregon businessman, from testifying behind closed doors about the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “profoundly disappointed” that he wouldn’t be able to testify. And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam 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.

Elsewhere in Washington, a federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a separate case on whether the House has actually undertaken a formal impeachment inquiry despite not having taken a vote and whether the inquiry can be characterized, under the law, as a “judicial proceeding.”

24205578