White House lawyer says he won’t attend hearing before Judiciary Committee

White House counsel Pat Cipollone during a medal ceremony at the White House.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone during a medal ceremony at the White House. Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Trump said on Sunday that they would not participate in the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday, airing a long list of complaints that they said prevented “any semblance of a fair process.”

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the committee, had given the White House a Sunday deadline for the president or his lawyers to take up the opportunity to appear at the hearing, where a panel of legal experts will offer an assessment of whether Trump committed impeachable offenses.

“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,” Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, wrote in a letter to Nadler, arguing that “an invitation to an academic discussion” would not “provide the president with any semblance of a fair process.”

“Under the current circumstances,” he continued, “we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing.”


He did not rule out participation in future hearings, though many of his complaints about the process would apply to those proceedings as well. Nadler had informed the administration on Friday that the president and his lawyers had a week to tell the committee whether they would call witnesses or present evidence as part of their defense against possible impeachment articles stemming from allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to help him in his reelection campaign, and Cipollone said he would respond to that request separately.

The refusal to send lawyers Wednesday continues a pattern for Trump, who has sought to block witnesses and documents, as he and his allies call the proceedings “deranged” and a “witch hunt.” People familiar with the president’s legal strategy have said privately that his lawyers are deeply suspicious of taking part in a process they view as unfair.


Nadler spokesman Daniel Schwarz declined to comment on Cipollone’s letter.

The Trump administration’s move comes as Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee prepare to meet Tuesday to approve the release of their report detailing the panel’s findings on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

On Sunday, Democrats called on the White House to cooperate, suggesting an innocent person would have no problem testifying.

‘‘We’re certainly hoping that the president, his counsel, will take advantage of that opportunity if he has not done anything wrong,’’ Representative Val Demings, Democrat of Florida, said on ABC News’s ‘‘This Week.’’ ‘‘We’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that.’’

In the GOP, there is a conflict over the extent to which Trump and his congressional defenders ought to engage in the process, even as Republicans signaled that they will continue their aggressive campaign to delegitimize it as corrupt and unfair.

Speaking on ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ Representative Douglas Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he understood why the White House might want to skip the Wednesday hearing, calling it ‘‘just another rerun’’ covering ground already surveyed in previous Judiciary Committee hearings.

‘‘This is a complete American waste of time right here,’’ he said.

But he added that Republicans would be more keen to participate in future hearings — particularly one examining the findings of the House Intelligence Committee as prepared by its chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.


Other Republican lawmakers said Trump could benefit from availing himself of the due-process protections that Nadler has offered, including the right to present evidence, suggest witnesses, and cross-examine those called by Democrats to testify.

Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California and a Judiciary Committee member, said on ‘‘This Week’’ that he thought it ‘‘would be to the president’s advantage’’ to have counsel participate in the upcoming hearings.

‘‘But I can also understand how he is upset at the illegitimate process that we saw unfold in the Intelligence Committee,’’ he said.

In his letter, Cipollone echoed a complaint that the president has voiced about the timing of the first hearing: It will overlap with Trump’s appearance at the NATO summit in London. (Cipollone said the timing was “no doubt purposely” arranged to coincide with the international trip.)

That was one of many points Cipollone cited as he assailed the committee for a failure to establish what he deemed to be a fair process — an argument that has quickly gained resonance among Trump’s allies as a way to undermine the inquiry.

The committee, he wrote, has “given no information regarding your plans, set arbitrary deadlines, and then demanded a response, all to create the false appearance of providing the president some rudimentary process.”

It is unclear whether the Democratic majority would be willing to acquiesce to any conditions set by the White House. Democrats have stood by their process, saying that Trump is being given ample opportunities to defend himself and that the White House would not have blocked Trump’s inner circle from testifying if officials had exculpatory information.


There were few indications of Trump’s thinking Sunday morning. The president had sent two tweets about World AIDS Day and was spending the second day in a row at his golf course in West Palm Beach, Fla., after returning early Friday from a Thanksgiving visit to US troops in Afghanistan.

On Saturday night, the president had tweeted out links to opinion pieces from Trump-friendly media outlets defending his actions and criticizing the impeachment process as ‘‘wasting time.’’

On Sunday, Collins renewed calls for Schiff personally to testify, indicating that he would face intense questioning from Republicans on the role his committee played in shepherding the whistle-blower complaint that exposed Trump’s irregular dealings with Ukraine, among other matters.

The Republican congressman noted that Schiff has compared the panel’s fact-finding process to that of the independent prosecutors who examined matters that led to impeachment proceedings against presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

In those cases, Collins noted, those prosecutors subjected themselves to congressional questioning.

‘‘He’s put himself into that position,’’ Collins said. ‘‘It’s easy to hide behind a report. It’s easy to hide behind a gavel and the Intelligence Committee’s behind-closed-door hearings. But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.’’

Another Republican, Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, predicted that the impeachment inquiry will take a turn for the combative when it moves to the Judiciary Committee this week.


‘‘It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot and under the collar as we go along,’’ Biggs, who sits on the panel, said in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Mike Emanuel on ‘‘Sunday Morning Futures.’’ ‘‘I don’t think things have been done the way they've been done in the past, Mike, and so it causes some rancor and it should be pretty — much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was.’’

Demings said Democrats were ‘‘not going to play any games’’ with Republicans and called on Trump to end his stonewall of Democrats’ witness and document demands.

‘‘They want to . . . play a political game and tie the process up in the courts as long as they can and run the clock out,’’ she said. ‘‘We’re not willing to play that game.’’

Some Democrats on Sunday intensified their criticism of Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is running for president, described the impeachment inquiry as a constitutional obligation.

‘‘James Madison said that the reason we needed impeachment provisions is that he feared that a president would betray the trust of the people to a foreign power,’’ Klobuchar said on NBC News’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’ ‘‘That’s why this is proceeding. I see it simply as a global Watergate.’’

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.