White House Again Rejects Democrats’ Requests for Documents in Corruption Inquiry

The White House on Wednesday rejected another round of document requests from the House, expanding on its assertions that Democrats in Congress lacked a legitimate legislative purpose for the demands and were inappropriately replicating the work of the special counsel.

The letter from the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, laid out a series of arguments, saying essentially that Congress was not a law enforcement body and does not have the standing to investigate the president.

The letter stopped short of asserting executive privilege over the documents, which relate to 81 individuals and entities connected to the president or his campaign and inauguration. The documents are being sought by the House Judiciary Committee for its investigation into possible obstruction of justice, abuse of power and corruption. But the letter framed the requests as overly broad. And it suggested that the committee was trying to get another crack at material the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, had already reviewed at great length.

“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,” Mr. Cipollone wrote in the 12-page letter, which was first reported by ABC News.

The letter added, “If the committee intends to continue its inquiry, it would greatly advance that process if the committee were to narrow the scope of the requests in the March 4 letter and articulate the legislative purpose and legal basis supporting each of the remaining requests.”

Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the letter “outrageous.”

“They say the Justice Department can’t hold him accountable since a sitting president cannot be indicted,” Mr. Nadler said. “And now they’re saying that Congress cannot hold a president accountable. This is ridiculous.”

Mr. Nadler has repeatedly made the case that Congress is exercising its powers properly and that the White House has no legal basis to object to its requests for information.

The Judiciary Committee opened its inquiry into the Trump administration in early March, before any conclusions of the special counsel were known, and dispatched dozens of letters demanding information from government officials, agencies, businesses and associates of Mr. Trump.

The aggressive approach infuriated Republicans, who accused Mr. Nadler of opening a presidential impeachment inquiry in everything but name. At the time, Mr. Nadler and committee Democrats made clear that they saw their work as independent of the special counsel’s investigation, and that it would go on regardless of Mr. Mueller’s findings.

Mr. Cipollone’s letter, and others sent by the White House Counsel’s Office, lay out arguments that they would probably use in court if House officials sought to force the Trump administration to comply. In a court hearing on Tuesday, personal lawyers for Mr. Trump made similar arguments in a legal dispute over a subpoena by the House oversight committee for Mr. Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm: essentially, that Congress is trying to conduct a law-enforcement investigation, which is outside its purview, and lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.

The court dispute over the subpoena for Mr. Trump’s financial records does not involve a claim of executive privilege, a shield that covers only internal executive branch communications. But Mr. Cipollone’s letter laid out additional arguments for why he said Congress had no right to information like underlying documents and testimony concerning matters laid out in the Mueller report.

Still, Mr. Cipollone’s letter glossed over one of the most important challenges for Mr. Trump in his effort to keep Congress from obtaining such information, including documents and testimony about his communications with aides like Donald F. McGahn II, his former White House counsel: The executive branch has already made the gist of those communications public by releasing most of the Mueller report.

In a 2016 decision involving a congressional subpoena for confidential internal Justice Department emails, a federal judge ruled that President Barack Obama could not use executive privilege to keep those messages private. The ruling turned on the fact that the executive branch had released an inspector general report that described and quoted their contents, so letting lawmakers see the underlying materials would impose no additional harm to the executive branch’s confidentiality interests.

Mr. Cipollone’s letter used a parenthetical to brush off the implications of the disclosures the executive branch had already made. He emphasized that Mr. Trump’s decision not to assert executive privilege over the now-public portions of the Mueller report was “not a waiver of executive privilege for any other material or for any other purpose,” but he offered no rationale to explain why the Obama-era ruling would not apply in the present dispute.


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