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White House says Congress has no 'legitimate role' in investigating Trump, rejects document demands  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

WASHINGTON – The White House told lawmakers Wednesday that Congress doesn't have the power to carry out a "pseudo law enforcement investigation" of President Donald Trump, rejecting demands for information about his efforts to thwart the special counsel investigation that clouded the first two years of his administration. 

The refusal came in a letter Wednesday from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. Cipollone said the administration would not cooperate with what it sees as an unprecedented overreach by politically motivated lawmakers seeking to replicate an already exhaustive and concluded special counsel investigation into Russia and the president's conduct.

Nadler's committee "has no legitimate role" in collecting materials to investigate Trump, Cipollone said. He suggested that lawmakers are using their investigative power to "harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized 'do-over' of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice."

The 12-page letter, a response to Nadler's request for documents, is another escalation of a battle between the White House and congressional Democrats who are conducting wide-ranging investigations of Trump's presidency, his finances and his private business. The administration has largely defied lawmakers' efforts to gather records and has signaled a willingness to fight them in court. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win, but it did not find enough evidence that the president's campaign conspired with Russia. Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, but detailed nearly a dozen episodes in which the president sought to intercede in the probe and suggested some could well have been criminal.

Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein separately determined that the evidence did not amount to a crime. 

In March, Nadler sent letters to 81 individuals and agencies, including the White House, requesting documents pertaining to the House Judiciary Committee's investigation into possible obstruction of justice by Trump. 

Cipollone said in his response to that request that Nadler is seeking to "replow the same ground" Mueller and his large team of investigators have already covered.

"I ask you to consider that approach," Cipollone said. "With the Special Counsel's investigation behind us, the President and his team stand ready to work with the Committee cooperatively to advance the legislative agenda for the benefit of the American people."

In a statement, Nadler said his committee will not end its investigation.

"The White House position appears to be that the Justice Department cannot hold the President accountable, since it purportedly cannot indict him," Nadler said. "Now it adds the extreme claim that Congress cannot act either ... This flies in the face of the American idea that no one is above the law, and I reject it."

Cipollone cited in his letter what he says were legal flaws in Nadler's request for documents. He said Nadler is seeking records, including confidential communications and deliberations between Trump, his advisers and foreign leaders, all of which are subject to executive privilege. He said Nadler's request is "beyond the reach of congressional oversight," does not advance a "legitimate legislative purpose," and violates separation of powers.

Cipollone said the White House will cooperate with congressional investigations that have a legislative purpose. But even then, he said, Congress' authority "to explore in detail any particular case of alleged wrongdoing is limited."

Trump's personal lawyers made similar arguments in federal court on Tuesday, asking a federal judge to block a House subpoena seeking financial records from his longtime accountant. Trump's private lawyer told a judge that Congress has no authority to investigate his private conduct, and suggested that even the Watergate investigation that ultimately led to President Richard Nixon's resignation was improper. 

Trump took the rare move last week of asserting executive privilege to keep secret the millions of pages of evidence that Mueller gathered in his investigation. At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over an unredacted version of the Mueller report.

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