The White House told Democratic lawmakers on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyers would not participate in a congressional impeachment hearing this week, citing a lack of “fundamental fairness.”
White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, according to a copy of a letter.
Mr Trump’s aides responded defiantly to the first of two crucial deadlines he faces in Congress this week as Democrats prepare to shift the focus of their impeachment inquiry from fact-finding to the consideration of possible charges of misconduct over his dealings with Ukraine.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, tasked with considering charges known as articles of impeachment, had given
Mr Trump until 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) on Sunday to say whether he would dispatch a lawyer to take part in the judiciary panel’s proceedings on Wednesday.
“We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings,” Cipollone said.
Cipollone – while citing a “complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president” in the impeachment process – did not rule out participation in further proceedings.
But he signalled that Democrats would first have to make major procedural concessions.
Nadler has given the White House a Friday deadline to say whether Trump will mount a defense in broader impeachment proceedings.
The Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the White House’s refusal to participate in the hearing, which would have been the first direct involvement by the Trump camp in a process he has condemned as a partisan “witch hunt.”
Democratic U.S. Representative Don Beyer said on Twitter in response to the White House letter: “Not one process complaint made by the President and his Republican allies in Congress so far has turned out to be genuine.”
Congressional investigators have been looking into whether Mr Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations of former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden.
Mr Biden is running to unseat him in the 2020 presidential election, and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The first in a series of expected Judiciary proceedings will hear testimony on the impeachment process established under the U.S. Constitution from a panel of legal experts that has yet to be named.
Hearings before the committee, which has responsibility for crafting any formal charges against Trump, are a major step toward possible charges.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will make the final decision, has not yet said whether the Republican president should be impeached.
But in a letter to supporters last week, she called for him to be held accountable for his actions.
Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing, calling the impeachment inquiry a sham.