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Obama White House Counsel Blasts Trump Lawyer's Anti-Impeachment Letter as Political Messaging

Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Lake Charles, Louisiana
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Sudduth Coliseum on October 11, 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Matt Sullivan/Getty

President Barack Obama's White House counsel penned a column skewering a letter that the Trump administration sent to congressional leaders last week which purported to declare the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry completely invalid.

Bob Bauer, a top lawyer in the Obama administration, wrote on the Lawfare blog that the memorandum, sent by current White House counsel Pat Cipollone to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats, "sounds like one [written] by a personal defense lawyer for Donald Trump."

The White House counsel represents the institution of the presidency and not the president's personal interests.

Cipollone's October 8 letter to Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel declared that President Donald Trump's White House and administration "cannot participate" in the House's nascent impeachment inquiry.

The letter cited institutional safeguards that Cipollone alleged have not been observed, as the Democrats have sought to undergo discovery and question witnesses. Furthermore, the letter proclaimed that the inquiry itself was unconstitutional and has "no basis."

The inquiry stemmed from a whistleblower complaint relating to Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the American president appeared to condition the receipt of military assistance upon an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's chief opponent in the 2020 race.

Trump has denied ever establishing a quid-pro-quo condition with Zelensky in the phone call.

Despite the intrigue and ongoing interest in uncovering the full circumstances of the phone call, Cipollone's letter purported to summarily exonerate Trump, declaring multiple times that the call was "completely appropriate," a refrain often used by Trump himself.

Bauer argued that Cipollone made clear his interests here were not in the institution of the presidency, but in Trump as an individual. If he were truly interested in protecting the institution, Bauer said, Cipollone could have recommended any number of good-faith reforms or modifications to the House's approach to impeachment.

Instead, Bauer noted that Cipollone appeared to effectively eviscerate the concept of impeachment itself. Cipollone even suggested that the White House would be more cooperative if the House shifted its demands for evidence to the realm of congressional oversight instead of impeachment.

"In effect, the White House counsel has vacated the field and left the House to do as it pleases. This is a bad precedent for the presidency," Bauer wrote. "It may be that Cipollone is a perfectly capable lawyer but, like other lawyers who land within Trump's orbit, he has found that the quality of his representation cannot survive the demands and impulses of the "client" he represents."

Cipollone at one point accused Democrats of working to overturn the results of the 2016 election in their quest to examine impeaching the president. Though, as Bauer noted, this was not linked to a substantive argument about how Congress' motive would impair its own impeachment powers.

"This is an appalling bit of political rhetoric for a communication from the White House counsel to the House leadership," Bauer assessed. "It is not a constitutional argument, nor is it a legal argument. It is the stuff of Trump tweets and Republican National Committee press releases and talking points."

Obama White House Counsel Blasts Trump Lawyer's Anti-Impeachment Letter as Political Messaging | Politics