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Trump's top aides clash over impeachment as House probe expands

Saleha Mohsin and Jordan Fabian, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Two of Donald Trump's most senior aides, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, are clashing over who should direct the president's response to the House impeachment inquiry, according to people familiar with the matter.

Cipollone sees impeachment as his domain because he views it as a legal matter and has privately complained to colleagues that Mulvaney is trying to wrest control, the people said. Mulvaney believes he's in charge because impeachment is political and expects Cipollone to report to his office, they said.

Complicating the dispute between the officials, Mulvaney has fallen out of favor with some of the president's allies after high-profile stumbles handling the impeachment inquiry, and Trump last month privately tested the idea of replacing him. By contrast, Cipollone enjoys the support of Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner, positioning the lawyer to outlast Mulvaney.

The animosity between two of the highest-ranking administration officials threatens to further muddle Trump's impeachment defense as the White House struggles to respond to a torrent of revelations in the House probe. The White House's strategy hinges on keeping congressional Republicans unified by portraying the probe as a partisan and illegitimate exercise.

Asked for comment on the dispute, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: "The president values discussion and debate amongst staff so he can ultimately make an informed decision -- and once he does, we are responsible for carrying it out." She said all divisions report to Mulvaney and that "We are one team and we all work together well."

House Democrats are opening the public phase of their impeachment inquiry next week with some of the central witnesses who have detailed the president's pressure on Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

 

Cipollone and Mulvaney argue regularly, two people said, over impeachment, judicial nominations and other issues. Mulvaney recently complained privately that Cipollone hasn't aggressively coached White House staff on their rights when subpoenaed by the House, and hasn't been explicit about whether they should testify, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As the personal dispute escalates, Trump's Republican allies in the Senate are growing concerned that the White House defense is inadequate as more damaging information is released about his efforts to get Ukraine's president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately expressed to the White House that he is dissatisfied with the administration's strategy, one of the people said. McConnell's office declined to comment.

McConnell has yet to offer a vigorous public defense of Trump's conduct. The Kentucky Republican also allowed passage of a September resolution pushed by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York urging the White House to let lawmakers see a whistle-blower's complaint about the president's actions.

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