White House plans to spurn Democrats' request for documents in impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON — The White House is planning to spurn Democrats' request for documents sought as part of their impeachment inquiry as administration aides scramble to calibrate a legal response strategy.

White House lawyers plan to argue that until there is a formal vote by the House to begin impeachment proceedings, Congress doesn’t have the right to the information, said people familiar with the discussions.

“Well, we’ll be issuing a letter," President Donald Trump told reporters as he departed the White House Friday. Asked whether he was going to cooperate with any House subpoenas, Trump was noncommittal. "I don't know, that's up to the lawyers," he said.

Trump had said Thursday he would leave the decision up to the lawyers on whether to cooperate with the congressional investigation into whether he used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate 2020 rival Joe Biden.

House Democrats have said they would subpoena White House officials by Friday if their demands were not met. Democrats said the panels would not consider contempt or any other penalties for noncompliance, and that White House failure to produce the documents would instead be used as evidence of obstruction for impeachment.

It was unclear what the White House was basing its legal argument on; the congressional rules manual leaders typically follow makes no mention of a vote being required, and there is no constitutional requirement for such an action. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

While Democrats in Congress have said in the past a formal vote would be needed to initiate an impeachment probe, they have denied in recent days that it is a prerequisite for the White House to have to comply with their inquiry.

Even without White House cooperation, Democrats have been amassing a growing body of evidence related to their case.

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ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 30 de noviembre de 2018, la entonces embajadora de EEUU en Ucrania, Marie L. Yovanovitch, habla en Kiev. Yovanovich declara el viernes 11 de octubre de 2019 ante las comisiones del Congreso que investigan al presidente Donald Trump antes de posiblemente iniciarle juicio político. (AP Foto/Efrem Lukatsky)
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington, as she is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, sits during her meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee speaks to the media before a closed-door meeting regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol October 8, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, addresses the media at Midvale Senior Citizens Center Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Midvale, Utah. McAdams is changing his position to support the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. He said Friday he has not made a decision on whether the president should be impeached, but he supports investigating what he calls serious allegations. McAdams was previously one of a small handful of undecided House Democrats. He says he changed his mind because the Trump administration is unlikely to cooperate with an investigation unless it's conducted as an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters after the Trump administration blocked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps away from a podium after reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Members of the White House press corps - holding in the Trump Bar at Trump Tower - watch U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) live on television as she announces an impeachment investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, New York, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks through a House corridor following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL.) speaks to news reporters following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) walks with her press secretary, Connor Joseph, to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Spanberger is one of seven freshman members of the House with national intelligence or military backgrounds who recently spoke out in an opinion piece calling for an investigation of Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters and congressional staff members wait outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Congressional investigators uncovered text messages that show U.S. diplomats pressuring Ukraine to commit in public to investigating the Bidens and linking that inquiry to a potential White House visit by Ukraine’s president.

The two ambassadors, both Trump picks, went so far as to draft language for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy should say, the texts indicate. Text messages released by Congress overnight show U.S. ambassadors working to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents and explicitly linking that inquiry to the question of whether Ukraine’s president would be granted an official White House visit.

The two ambassadors, both Trump picks, went so far as to draft language for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy should say, the texts indicate. The messages, released Thursday by House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry, show the ambassadors coordinating with both Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a top Zelenskiy aide.

Full coverage: Trump impeachment inquiry

The Department of Defense announced Thursday that its general counsel had directed all DoD offices to produce information requested by Democrats dealing with the delayed military funding for Ukraine.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner are trying to take the lead on the staff response to impeachment, creating a streamlined non-presidential response process, coordinating across government agencies and taking into account actions by the state and defense departments, according to one official.

Aides and advisers to President Donald Trump have met throughout the week to craft their strategy even as the president made statements that shifted the parameters of the impeachment inquiry in unexpected ways.

On Thursday, Trump threw a new wrinkle into the impeachment probe when he publicly called on the Chinese to investigate Biden amid tense trade talks between the two countries.

Then on Friday he argued that he is on a broader push to root out corrupt behavior by Americans with business dealings in foreign countries, regardless of whether it involves his political rivals.

“As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries,” Trump tweeted. “It is done all the time. This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!”

Trump has made little previous mention of combating corruption outside the U.S. during his presidency, with the overwhelming majority of his public comments on corruption related to his accusations against Justice Department officials involved in the Russia election meddling investigation, and Democrats probing the same issues.

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