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White House stiff-arms House Judiciary Committee on Russia investigation

Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The White House hardened its opposition to House Democrats' investigations Wednesday, telling lawmakers that they had no authority to examine how President Donald Trump has wielded his executive authority.

The stance stiffens Trump's already obdurate approach toward Capitol Hill, and it represents an expansive view of how presidents can stonewall congressional requests for documents or testimony from administration officials.

"The Committee's inquiries transparently amount to little more than an attempt to duplicate -- and supplant -- law enforcement inquiries, and apparently to do so simply because the actual law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice did not reach a conclusion favored by some members of the Committee," Pat Cipollone, the top White House lawyer, wrote in a letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

The argument paralleled one that Trump's personal lawyers made earlier this week in court in an effort to block subpoenas of Trump's financial records. They also argued that Congress could not pursue investigations that replicated "law enforcement" inquiries. The federal judge appeared skeptical of the argument, saying that such a rule would have blocked congressional investigations of the Watergate scandal.

House Democrats have been trying to build on the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III by probing whether Trump obstructed justice or otherwise abused his power. But the White House has refused to cooperate on that inquiry or in others into the president's tax returns and the granting of security clearances.

"Based on the sheer number and scope of the Committee's requests, it is clear that the Committee is trying to unduly burden the Office of the President so as to impair the President's ability to carry out his constitutional duties," Cipollone's letter said. "The Constitution does not permit Congress to undermine the President in this manner."

 

In his 448-page report, Mueller laid out several instances in which Trump tried to impede the Russia investigation. However, he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump violated the law -- in part because Justice Department rules prevent sitting presidents from being indicted.

Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the evidence did not show that Trump committed a crime. With the special counsel's investigation over, the White House accused Democrats of trying to repeat Mueller's work without a legitimate purpose.

"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.

Nadler responded by telling reporters that the White House was trying to make the president invulnerable to any kind of oversight.

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