White House tells Democrats it won't participate in Trump impeachment hearings

White House tells Democrats it won't participate in Trump impeachment hearings

The White House said on Friday it would refuse to take part in hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives set for next week that will consider what articles of impeachment to bring against President Donald Trump. 

In a letter to judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone called the Democrats' impeachment inquiry "completely baseless" and said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had ordered Democrats to proceed with articles of impeachment "before your committee has heard a single shred of evidence."

The House judiciary committee heard testimony from four legal experts earlier this week. That comes after the House intelligence committee produced a 300-page report on its findings from 17 witnesses who testified in recent weeks. 

"We don't see any reason to participate because the process is unfair," said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Nadler rejected that criticism and expressed disappointment, saying in a statement: "The American people deserve answers from President Trump."

Pelosi on Thursday asked the judiciary committee to draw up formal articles of impeachment against the Republican president. The committee could draft and recommend the articles by next Thursday and the full Democratic-led House could vote on them by Christmas.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler that the Democrats' impeachment inquiry is 'completely baseless.' (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In September Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry into Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the president in the 2020 U.S. election.

"House Democrats have wasted enough of America's time with this charade," Cipollone's letter said. "You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings."

He quoted a tweet from Thursday in which Trump said, "If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business."

Trump meets Friday deadline

Trump has made clear his lawyers will present a defence in the Republican-controlled Senate, where he believes he will receive fair treatment.

Nadler, a Democrat, had given Trump until 5 p.m. local time Friday to decide whether he or his legal counsel would participate in upcoming committee proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation.

Trump, who denied any wrongdoing, thus far has refused to co-operate with the inquiry and ordered current and former administration officials not to testify or provide documents demanded by House committees.

Nadler has scheduled a committee hearing for Monday. His committee is responsible for drafting articles of impeachment and would have to approve them before sending them to the full House for a vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday asked the U.S. judiciary committee to draw up articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Passage of formal charges would lead to a trial in the Republican-led Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. Senate Republicans have given little indication they would support Trump's removal.

Pelosi accused Trump of abusing his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in an American election for his own political benefit at the expense of U.S. national security. The articles of impeachment could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

Republicans accuse Democrats of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at ousting Trump using what they call an unfair impeachment process.

The probe is focusing on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and into a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice-president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.

Democrats also have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million US in congressionally approved security aid to Ukraine — a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression — and holding back a coveted White House meeting with Zelensky as leverage to pressure Kyiv into investigating the Bidens.

Lawmakers and congressional aides said judiciary committee Democrats were drafting articles of impeachment with input from people including Pelosi and the heads of five other House committees that have investigated Trump.