The White House on Wednesday said it will cooperate with “legitimate” investigative requests from Congress, backing down from President Trump’s insistence that he wouldn’t comply with anything.
But the White House, in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, said so far most of the requests aren’t fair, and he should go back and start again.
“The fact of the matter is the White House isn’t going to cooperate with this type of presidential harassment,” a White House official told reporters.
The 12-page letter from Pat A. Cipollone, the White House’s top lawyer, was in response to a request for documents Mr. Nadler sent earlier this year. Mr. Nadler demanded information from 81 persons or entities, largely going over ground that the special counsel’s investigation covered.
Mr. Cipollone said that attempt at a do-over because “some committee members disagree with the conclusions” of the special counsel doesn’t qualify as legitimate oversight, so the White House won’t cooperate.
But he said there may be some room for accommodation if Mr. Nadler would narrow the scope of his demands.
“Our responsibility to the constitutionally based prerogatives of the Executive Branch, our obligation to protect those prerogatives for all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, and our respect for the rule of law require that we resist the overbroad demands in the committee’s letter,” the lawyer wrote.
The letter’s tone, while still defiant, is far different from Mr. Trump, who last month said he would resist everything.
“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he told reporters, calling the investigations “nonsense.”
Some legal scholars had said that blanket resistance undercut Mr. Trump’s position because it made him look like an obstructionist.
Mr. Cipollone’s letter instead says there are some investigations that could be “legitimate,” and the White House is willing to reach accommodations even on documents that would normally be shielded by privileges.
The White House official briefing reporters Wednesday said one example of that is over security clearances, where the White House has worked to make information available to House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings.
Mr. Nadler and other members of the Judiciary Committee said they won’t stand for the White House telling them what is legitimate and what’s not.
“This is a basic principle of our government that Congress has the responsibility to conduct oversight to hold the Executive branch accountable,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat.
Both the administration and Congress seem prepared to hash it out in the courts, looking for judges to be the ultimate referees for whether Congress’ investigations are legitimate.
But some Democrats are increasingly eyeing their own tools to punish obstructionist officials. The chief method is through Congress’ “inherent contempt” power, under which the sergeant at arms would arrest and detain officials, with the possibility of steep fines, until they comply.
“It was the main procedure used for 150 years and we may have to do it again,” Mr. Nadler told reporters.
Asked what sort of fines might be imposed, he was succinct: “very large amounts.”
© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.