Justice Department backed Trump strong-arm of House impeachment probe

Source: Politico | January 21, 2020 | Josh Gerstein

The DOJ concluded that Trump was justified in categorically rejecting the House’s demands for information.

The Justice Department secretly blessed President Donald Trump’s decision to stonewall the Democratic-led House over impeachment last year, the president’s legal team disclosed Monday.

The legal brief submitted to the Senate as part of Trump’s defense includes an opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel concluding that Trump was justified in categorically rejecting the House’s demands for information before lawmakers passed a formal impeachment resolution on Oct. 31.

“We conclude that the House must expressly authorize a committee to conduct an impeachment investigation and to use compulsory process in that investigation before the committee may compel the production of documents or testimony in support of the House’s sole power of impeachment,” Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote in the detailed legal rationale.

The opinion was officially dated Sunday and released by the Justice Department on its website Monday, timing that appeared to dovetail with a Senate-set noon, holiday deadline for Trump’s first substantive brief in the impeachment trial.

Trump’s lawyers argue that one reason he is not guilty of obstructing congressional inquiries — the thrust of one of the articles of impeachment he faces — is because his instructions to his appointees to defy lawmakers’ subpoenas followed legal advice from DOJ.

“Contrary to the mistaken charge that the President lacked ‘lawful cause or excuse’ to resist House Democrats’ subpoenas, the President acted only after securing advice from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and based on established legal principles or immunities,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone, outside lawyer Jay Sekulow and other attorneys wrote.

The Justice Department’s position paper acknowledges that the White House approached OLC for advice soon after Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly confirmed a Ukraine-related impeachment inquiry on Sept. 23 and House committees began subpoenaing witnesses and documents in late September and October.

The newly disclosed opinion is vague about precisely when OLC was first approached to give its advice on the topic, when the response was rendered or what form that early advice took.

However, the new disclosures about the consultations with Justice could prompt some to reassess the confrontational letter Cipollone sent to the House on Oct. 8. That eight-page missive was roundly denounced by many legal experts, who said it sounded more like a political diatribe from the president than a reasoned legal argument against the House’s impeachment efforts.


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