Donald Trump and his usual motley crew of Republican congressional defenders have made the fact that the president was not allowed to have his own attorneys participate in the first phase of the House impeachment inquiry conducted by the Intelligence Committee a central portion of their accusations of the illegitimacy of the investigation — despite the fact that such representation typically only enters the impeachment mix once the proceedings reach the Senate trial phase of the process.
Yet, after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) offered the president and his lawyers the opportunity to appear at the first public hearing conducted by his committee, Trump declined to participate after all, saying that the hearings did not allow him “any semblance of a fair process” in a letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to Representative Nadler.
“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 wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee Chairman, claiming that “an invitation to an academic discussion” would not provide Trumo with the unbiased process he professes to seek.
Given that the president has spent most of the time since the impeachment hearings have begun screeching that the entire proceedings are a partisan “witch hunt” and insulting the Democrats who have presided over them, Trump’s back-tracking on his supposed desire for a place at the table during the House hearings is unsurprising.
Chairman Nadler, having called the president’s bluff by meeting his initial demands, responded to Cipollone’s letter this morning with a withering statement in reply to Trump’s abrupt reversal.
“Late last night, the President and his counsel turned down our invitation to participate in Wednesday’s hearing. His response is unfortunate because allowing the President to participate has been a priority for the House from the outset. That is why the House included the opportunity to particpate in H. Res. 660,” Chairman Nadler wrote.
“The American people deserve transparency,” he continued. “If the President thinks the call was ‘perfect’ and there is nothing to hide then he would turn over the thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress, allow witnesses to testify instead of blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims, and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power,” he pointedly noted.
Trump’s evasive tactics are as transparent as he’ll ever get, demanding representation at the hearings and then finding flimsy excuses not to appear in a forum where his lies will be under oath and the penalty of the further impeachable offense of lying to Congress.
By declining to participate, the president can continue to criticize the proceedings from the sidelines as illegitimate while never providing any personal testimony or allowing his White House aides to give their own first-hand accounts of the events surrounding the withholding of congressionally-appropriated military assistance from Ukraine for Trump’s own political benefit.
When all the facts are going against Trump, evasive action is one of the only tools left in his bag of dirty tricks. The other is distraction and, with Trump heading off to meet with our NATO allies this week, don’t be surprised if he pulls some stunt to draw public attention from the latest round of incriminating testimony in the House of Representatives.
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Original reporting by Emily Cochrane and at The New York Times.