White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election

White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election - The Reports

President Trump with the American ambassador to the European Union, Gordon D. Sondland, in Brussels last year.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

  • Published Oct. 8, 2019Updated Oct. 24, 2019

WASHINGTON — The White House declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, announcing that it would not cooperate with what it called an illegitimate effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” and setting the stage for a constitutional clash with far-reaching consequences.

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House said the inquiry had violated precedent and denied President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents.

“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” said the letter signed by Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the executive branch and all future occupants of the office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”

But in refusing to cooperate with what Mr. Trump on Tuesday called a “kangaroo court,” the president risked ensuring the very outcome he would rather avoid. House Democrats made clear that his failure to comply with their demands for information could form the basis for its own article of impeachment.

“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

The letter came shortly after the White House blocked the interview of a key witness, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill. A senior administration official said no other witnesses or documents would be provided, putting a “full halt” to cooperation.

The president’s decision to resist across the board is itself a potentially precedent-setting move that could have far-reaching implications for the inquiry. Democrats believe that it bolsters their list of impeachable offenses, adding the stonewalling of Congress to the tally, but it could also deprive them of crucial witnesses and evidence they might need to lodge credible charges against the president.

It came after days of confusion, uncertainty and debate inside the White House and among Mr. Trump’s allies about his strategy as investigators dig into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to provide damaging information about his domestic rivals.

Only last week, Mr. Trump publicly vowed to participate in the inquiry, saying that, “I always cooperate” and that “we’ll work together” with Democrats, even though he considered the allegations against him to be meritless.

He reversed himself after investigators were given text messages that called into question his assertion that there was no quid pro quo when he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats while dangling a White House invitation and withholding American security assistance.

The decision to block Mr. Sondland’s testimony frustrated some House Republicans. A group of them visited the president earlier Tuesday and explained why they hoped to hear from Mr. Sondland, a person briefed on the meeting said, in part because he has already denied any quid pro quo.

White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election - The Reports

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Republicans’ ‘Dead Chicken’ Strategy on Impeachment

After the successful confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, one political operative sees a clear path through the impeachment inquiry. But at what cost?

transcript

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Republicans’ ‘Dead Chicken’ Strategy on Impeachment

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Eric Krupke and Alexandra Leigh Young, and edited by Marc Georges, Monika Evstatieva, Paige Cowett and Lisa Tobin

After the successful confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, one political operative sees a clear path through the impeachment inquiry. But at what cost?

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today, the White House response to the impeachment inquiry has been to dismiss the allegations, deflect the facts and discredit the Democrats. It’s the same approach used by Republicans in 2018 to push through the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. My colleagues Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin, the authors of “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh” talk to the Republican strategist who wrote the political playbook used then and now. It’s Thursday, October 10th.

Robin, Kate, how did you first come to hear the name Mike Davis?

kate kelly

So we were looking back on the events of 2018 that were just so seismic for the country and trying to really slow down time and figure out very much from a 360-degree perspective who were the key players in that drama? Obviously, you had then-judge Kavanaugh. You had the women who had accused him of sexual misconduct and lawyers on both sides. But the political machinery — who were the important members of the Senate Judiciary Committee? And everyone said we should talk to this one operative — that he was at the center of everything. And that operative’s name was Mike Davis.

mike davis

Hey, is that Robin? Or is that Kate?

kate kelly

That was Kate just now, but Robin’s right here.

mike davis

Hello.

kate kelly

And everybody told us that he was sort of an unabashed advocate for Judge Kavanaugh and really sort of the torch-carrier politically through this process. And what he did in terms of not just managing the technicalities of the Senate investigation and the Senate process, but also waging this sort of cultural war for conservatives that was crystallized during the Kavanaugh confirmation process and is now being deployed as a defense against impeachment.

michael barbaro

So you knew that you wanted to talk to him.

kate kelly

Yes.

robin pogrebin

And so in talking to him, you know, he actually turns out to be somewhat of an unlikely character.

kate kelly

And would like to start by just asking you — tell us about your career background. How did you decide to become a lawyer?

mike davis

Ever since I was a little kid, I think my teachers, the priests, the nuns at my Catholic school knew that I was going to be a lawyer just because I was so mouthy as a kid.

robin pogrebin

He’s kind of a spark plug of a guy. He’s sort of built compactly. He’s very much of a kind of a tough talker. He takes no prisoners. But he was born and raised in Iowa.

mike davis

So I was raised by two very liberal Democrats who worked in public schools. And so I was raised very working class. I was raised Catholic. So I had the bleeding heart Catholic stuff from my mom.

robin pogrebin

And he had his own kind of awakening in terms of conservative issues.

mike davis

You know, I’ve always been kind of a right wing lunatic, even from a young age.

robin pogrebin

And even in sixth grade, he won the Alex P. Keaton award.

kate kelly

Alex P. Keaton, of course, being a reference to the beloved 1980s sitcom “Family Ties” where you have two bleeding heart liberal parents in Ohio with a large family, and they have this super conservative son, Alex P. Keaton, who, like, loves Reaganomics and is, like, a total black sheep within that context.

michael barbaro

Right — bounds into the kitchen every morning in his tie and his jacket.

robin pogrebin

Suspenders.

michael barbaro

Like raving about Reagan.

kate kelly

Right. Right.

mike davis

I saw the effects of these policies that liberals — that Democrats thought were helping people who needed help and they actually trap people in inter-generational poverty. So for me, that was the reason I became Republican is I saw —

robin pogrebin

And so then by college, he is working as an intern for Newt Gingrich, who kind of defined the outer edges of Republican philosophy at the time with the Contract for America.

michael barbaro

Which is a very much less government is better approach.

robin pogrebin

Right. Hands off. And he kind of becomes really sort of evangelized in a way. And he wants to be a soldier.

mike davis

My first job in Washington D.C. was back in 1998 as an undergraduate intern working in the office of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

robin pogrebin

And while he works for Newt Gingrich, the Clinton impeachment is going on. So Mike Davis has a front row seat on that strategy. And it makes a strong impression on him.

mike davis

I remember watching this up close and personally. The last day of my internship was the same day that the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton.

kate kelly

And he’s watching all of this going on — he’s very intrigued by it. And he’s taking notes as to how these processes are unfolding and how the parties are reshaping themselves in the early to mid-90s.

michael barbaro

So the impeachment of Bill Clinton would have been Mike Davis’ first culture war, so to speak. And it sounds like he was very closely paying attention to it.

kate kelly

Absolutely. He’s becoming a keen observer of politics. He has worked a stint for Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley opening mail.

mike davis

That was in May of 2000. I was 22 years old right out of school.

kate kelly

He works in the Justice Department for a spell. He goes to law school, becomes a lawyer. And he decides he wants to engage with all of these issues. And he’s going to do it from various angles. And at some point, he meets Neil Gorsuch.

mike davis

He was in private practice, and I helped him find his way into the Justice Department and then his way onto the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado.

kate kelly

Gorsuch is named to the Tenth Circuit court in Colorado.

mike davis

Then when Neil Gorsuch got confirmed as Judge Gorsuch, he asked me to go out to Colorado to clerk for him. So I went out to Colorado for a year.

kate kelly

Davis clerks for him.

mike davis

And I liked it so much that I stayed out there. I was in the private practice of law for 10 years.

kate kelly

Davis very early on sees a lot of potential in Gorsuch — sees him as someone, you know, he would like to align himself with and maybe help promote from behind the scenes. And he remains close to Judge Gorsuch for a long period of time.

michael barbaro

And what do you think that Davis sees in Gorsuch? Why is he latching on to him?

robin pogrebin

So what Mike Davis sees in Neil Gorsuch is kind of the embodiment of these values that Mike Davis has come to care about and be committed to. And Neil Gorsuch is kind of the perfect candidate right out of central casting. He not only has hard and strong conservative values, but he’s unapologetic about them in a way that Mike Davis feels enables him to go the distance. And Mike Davis realizes that changing the judiciary is the strongest avenue towards making lasting change in this country.

michael barbaro

How so?

robin pogrebin

Because those are judges who are — many of these appointments are for life. And this is the time when you’re making laws that are very difficult to change once you’ve made them as opposed to political administrations that can come and go. So this strategy, which is to confirm as many judges as possible as quickly as you can within kind of an ideological framework that fits with his values.

michael barbaro

So it’s kind of Alex P. Keaton woven into the law through judges like Neil Gorsuch.

robin pogrebin

Exactly.

kate kelly

So when the Trump administration begins, there’s this historic opportunity to fill the seat vacated by the conservative Justice Scalia who has died the year prior and whose seat has not been filled. Gorsuch is someone that Davis regards as an ideal choice to add to the court. So Davis is instrumental in helping Gorsuch sort of get on the map in terms of a potential nominee. Gorsuch is nominated. Davis then takes on the role of assisting Gorsuch from the outside through the nomination process — as a former clerk, a friend, a sort of colleague in legal circles for a number of years with shared government experience. Gorsuch is confirmed. And in fact, Davis is asked at age 39 to clerk for Gorsuch on the Supreme Court for the sort of stub-term that Gorsuch enters into.

mike davis

I was a pretty old law clerk — 39 years old walking around with my walker around the Supreme Court.

kate kelly

So he has that experience and then there’s this opening to be the chief nominations council working for Grassley on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Davis’ reputation by now is cemented as sort of a dogged advocate and a skilled political operator. And now, he’s poised to work on potential Supreme Court nominations that will aid the conservative majority from the inside.

robin pogrebin

So take us back, Mike, to June 2018 — Justice Kennedy surprisingly announces his resignation. What is your reaction at the time? And then what is your next move?

mike davis

I was very excited. I thought it was a historic opportunity to solidify a conservative majority on the court. I was thinking that day, this is the reason that Republicans, that independents, even some right-thinking Democrats voted for President Trump, because of how important this vacancy would be.

robin pogrebin

And it’s the ultimate victory, because once you have a 5-4 majority on the court and you’re replacing Anthony Kennedy who was a swing vote, you will now have cemented this conservative shift, which is the ultimate goal for the Republicans.

mike davis

Justice Kavanaugh — then-Judge Kavanaugh was on that list.

robin pogrebin

So when Brett Kavanaugh is nominated, Chuck Grassley enlists Mike Davis as his kind of brass knuckles to make sure to close this deal, bring this guy over the finish line, and cement the conservative majority on the high court.

mike davis

There was no way I was going to let this good man, Justice Kavanaugh, get smeared with these bogus allegations and lies, because some people are fearful that he’s going to rule a certain way on Roe vs. Wade.

michael barbaro

Right, because Mike Davis saw this as an extension of the cultural wars that he’s been fighting for years.

robin pogrebin

Exactly.

mike davis

The Democrats brought the perfect storm here. It was the #MeToo cultural clash with a judicial fight. And it was just a fight that I was not going to back down from.

kate kelly

So for Davis, this is a historic moment. And he’s ready to pull out all the stops.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

[music playing]michael barbaro

So Robin, Kate, what does the Mike Davis playbook look like when he actually tries to protect Brett Kavanaugh?

kate kelly

So there are sort of four key tenants to it. The first one is after a quick assessment of the facts and a feeling of confidence that the issue can be overcome, that’s when you message to your entire support network that you are going to stay the course.

mike davis

On September 20th, Kavanaugh was on life support. And Republicans were running for the hills. And what I wanted to do was send out a message that there was someone inside that Senate Judiciary Committee fighting. It was a bat signal.

kate kelly

So that’s where you see something like a September 20th tweet from Mike Davis saying, unfazed and determined. We will confirm Judge Kavanaugh. That’s days after Christine Blasey Ford has come public and Kavanaugh is very much in doubt in terms of whether his candidacy can move forward. So almost immediately, Davis is rushing to his rhetorical defense.

mike davis

It was to say that these allegations are not adding up. The lawyers are playing games. And we do not have a presumption of guilt in this country.

robin pogrebin

Number two is to turn the accused into the victim. In the case of Kavanaugh, that was to make the argument that Kavanaugh has already been evaluated by the F.B.I.

mike davis

He was a judge on the D.C. circuit for 12 years — the second-highest court in the land. He had six, now seven, F.B.I. full-field, single-scope background investigations. They talked to 160 people who knew him best.

robin pogrebin

This guy has already passed the test. Look what you’re putting him through again. You’re potentially ruining his family and his career.

mike davis

There was not a whiff of impropriety related to alcoholism or sexual abuse.

robin pogrebin

You’re dragging his name through the mud. You haven’t given this guy a fair trial and you’re already convicting him.

mike davis

In the #MeToo era, we’re just supposed to say, you know what? Let’s just throw due process out the door. Let’s just throw the presumption of innocence out the door. Let’s do this un-American presumption of guilt, because we’re in the #MeToo era. That is garbage. And we were not going to let that happen to a good man like Justice Kavanaugh.

robin pogrebin

Rather than trying to flesh out and understand better the accusations themselves.

kate kelly

The third tenet deals with casting doubt upon the facts and also tarnishing or perhaps politicizing the accuser.

mike davis

Listen, I don’t believe Dr. Ford’s allegations. I don’t think she’s telling the truth. But —

robin pogrebin

Tell us why.

mike davis

There’s just so many holes in her story and little fibs here and there. And when people make little fibs on things that are smaller, will they also fib about bigger things? I just don’t —

robin pogrebin

You saw that with Dr. Ford with some of the issues about fear of flying.

mike davis

She said that she had a Kavanaugh-induced fear of flying so she couldn’t come out to the hearing on a certain date. Her C.V. that she submitted to the committee shows as one of her interests international surf travel to places like Hawaii and Australia and all over the world. And I’m thinking, hm if she has this Kavanaugh-induced fear of flying, how did she get to Australia? Did she surf there?

kate kelly

Raising doubts about all those sorts of things as well as pointing to a lack of evidence or evidence that might suggest that the story is inaccurate.

michael barbaro

Even if the issue that’s being disputed is way off to the side.

kate kelly

Right.

mike davis

She has no memory of key details of the night in question. She doesn’t remember who invited her to the party or how she heard about it. She doesn’t remember how she got to the party. She doesn’t remember what —

kate kelly

And that is simply a way to put a seed of doubt in an already skeptical person’s mind about this account.

robin pogrebin

And number four is to frame this all in the context of a partisan battle.

mike davis

It’s the whole way this process was handled. It was the gamesmanship. It was Dianne Feinstein sitting on this letter for six weeks. It was this partisan hack lawyer who is representing Christine Blasey Ford, using her —

robin pogrebin

That this is a conspiracy, that it’s a witch hunt, and some of the language around this speaks to that — this real hyperbolic, huge, sweeping statements like a “calculated, orchestrated political hit,” which were the words of Brett Kavanaugh.

mike davis

I think this whole process was disgusting. And it was transparently political to me.

robin pogrebin

What that does is it removes us from the facts on the ground in terms of whether these allegations have any legitimacy and should be explored in any real way. And it takes it to the level of this is all just politics.

kate kelly

And Mike Davis has an analogy for what they’re doing here.

mike davis

What I did with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, I called it the “dead chicken strategy.”

michael barbaro

What on earth does that mean? What is the dead chicken strategy?

kate kelly

So remember that Davis for a brief period was a clerk for the newly installed Justice Gorsuch. And during that clerkship, the clerks would get together for lunch with individual justices. Davis had a lunch with Justice Clarence Thomas. And during that lunch, Thomas told this story about growing up on a farm in Georgia.

mike davis

Really resonated. He said when dogs killed chickens, they would take those chickens and wrap it around those dogs’ necks. And as those chickens rotted around those dogs’ necks, those dogs lost the taste for chicken. And I think that’s what Republicans need to start doing with the left.

kate kelly

Davis sees this as an analogy to what needs to be done to the liberals to punish them for their tactics.

michael barbaro

So who exactly are the characters in this colorful metaphor?

kate kelly

So in this case, the chicken is essentially the smears and lies that Davis believes that liberals have told about their political opponents — whether it was Judge Kavanaugh, whether it is President Trump, or any others who are part of the conservative objectives that Davis espouses. And they need to be punished and given a taste of their own medicine and have those smears pushed back in their face in order for them to lose the taste for that kind of political war-making.

michael barbaro

Hmm.

kate kelly

So because the Kavanaugh strategy worked so effectively, we wanted to ask Mike Davis the question — how is that playbook working for the Trump administration now as the conservatives are facing a very real threat to President Trump in the form of impeachment?

michael barbaro

And what does he say?

kate kelly

He says we’re seeing it unfold before our very eyes as it comes to handling the impeachment inquiry and defending an embattled President Trump. So you start with forceful denials and assertions that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the president.

mike davis

Impeachment should be a last resort. It is for high crimes and misdemeanors. And nothing that has been alleged against President Trump even comes close to those. Even if these allegations are true, which they’re not, it doesn’t even come close.

kate kelly

You then go to a discrediting of political opponents, of whistleblowers, or even the people that leaked to the original whistleblower. Were they politically motivated? Did they do the right thing? Then there’s an attack on the facts and whether or not they’re legitimate.

mike davis

With their outrageous lies and smears and impeachment mobs and #MeToo mobs. We need to fight back as conservatives, as Republicans. Because the left has a glass jaw, and if you fight back, it will break their glass jaw.

kate kelly

And then finally, there’s an invocation of this sort of the witch hunt — the persecution of the president, how un-American this is, and how inherently and disgustingly political it has become.

mike davis

This is a President of the United States. He was elected by the American people, whether the left likes it or not.

robin pogrebin

And just to stay with your chicken metaphor and clarify it, what’s the dead chicken and around whose neck in this case?

mike davis

Well, I mean, I think right now you’re looking at Joe Biden. The Democrats are going to hurt the one Democrat who has a shot at beating Trump by bringing in this whole Ukraine corruption mess. Because Joe Biden has his own problems with this Ukraine corruption mess. So be careful, Democrats, what you — this impeachment can of worms.

michael barbaro

So if the dead chicken strategy succeeds in the case of impeachment the way it sounds like he thinks it succeeded in the case of Kavanaugh, then Democrats will stop pursuing impeachment, because they will see the flaws in their arguments about why he should be impeached?

kate kelly

I think it’s even deeper than that. I think it’s that, but it’s also, perhaps, his belief that Democrats need to check their own motives and realize that this person has been elected and he’s here at least until 2021. And that they need to just be governed by this president and focus on legislation and other issues but drop the political animus and the tools he believes they are using to achieve political ends, which in his mind are smears and lies, among other things.

michael barbaro

I wonder, though, if Mike Davis is right that the same strategy that Republicans used successfully to confirm Brett Kavanaugh can work to fend off impeachment for President Trump, because the situations are quite different. One was a debate over what happened decades ago when people were in high school and memories were hazier and witnesses not available to corroborate something. Here, in the case of the Ukraine phone call, there is a transcript. There are people who listen in on the call. And there are whistleblowers to something that happened just about a month ago. So are these fundamentally different?

robin pogrebin

I think actually the template can still be applied to a very different set of circumstances, because the ultimate goal is to win. And so what you do is you remove this from the facts and you take it out of the substance. And it’s all about this sweeping general statement that this is a political hit job and that’s all you need to know. And keep focused on the fact that we have to defend this guy against a broad-based effort to take him down.

kate kelly

And don’t lose sight of the thing that undergirds this whole effort, which is the conservative culture war. Mike Davis, President Trump, and others have a vision for how the courts should look, how the country should look, and they are trying their level best to get to that through whatever means necessary.

michael barbaro

Right. And so efforts to stop it may take many forms, but they are, in this telling and through this playbook, all a part of the same effort to just stymie this.

robin pogrebin

Exactly.

The interesting hitch in this kind of well-developed strategy is that if the person in question looks to be on the ropes, if it looks as if this battle is not going to be won, there is a kind of an exit strategy — an escape hatch, if you will. And in the case of President Trump, that might mean that if it feels as if there is not enough political will to survive this battle, there is a scenario in which you could imagine a guy like Mike Davis walking away.

michael barbaro

Really? Why?

robin pogrebin

Because ultimately, the most important thing is this larger culture war, not the individuals you’re fighting for.

michael barbaro

So if it looks like the country does support not just impeachment but removing the president from office — or not reelecting him — you could foresee a day where the great warriors in this battle — the Mike Davis’ — might just washed their hands of it.

robin pogrebin

That’s right, because the important thing is to have the big picture in mind. And the big picture is they want to transform this country. And they’re going to do whatever it takes to do that. And if there are casualties along the way, including the president, so be it.

michael barbaro

Thank you both very much.

robin pogrebin

Thank you.

kate kelly

Thank you.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording

We witnessed the beginning of this defensive at around about 4 o’clock local time this afternoon — a series of loud explosions. You can probably hear more of them now. And it’s been pretty constant.

michael barbaro

On Wednesday, Turkey began a military assault on northeast Syria, launching airstrikes and firing artillery against American-backed Kurdish forces there.

archived recording

Volleys of artillery from our location in southern Turkey are being fired across the border onto Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

michael barbaro

The attack only began after President Trump approved it during a telephone call over the weekend with Turkey’s president. But on Wednesday, Trump seemed to regret that decision, saying in a statement that the US quote, “does not endorse this attack” and thinks it’s a bad idea. And —

archived recording

Batteries, extra lighting, flashlights — I have extra flashlights at home. I bought some ceiling lights. And then I’m going to try to serve as much of my food as I can with the ice.

michael barbaro

In an unusual move, the largest utility in California is deliberately cutting off power to at least two million residents to avoid the possibility of wildfires over the next few days. Forecasts for hot, dry air and winds of up to 70 miles per hour have created a high risk of fires started by downed power lines — the cause of several previous wildfires across California.

archived recording

We very much understand the inconvenience and difficulties such a power outage would cause. And we do not take or make this decision lightly.

michael barbaro

The power outages have disrupted life across the state, with schools canceling classes, stores closing their doors, and drivers navigating streets without working traffic lights, angering residents and prompting the utility, PG&E, to defend its decision.

archived recording

We implement public safety power shut off as a last resort.

michael barbaro

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

As Mr. Trump braced for a full-fledged battle, he had lunch on Tuesday with Trey Gowdy, a former South Carolina congressman who has been in talks about joining the president’s legal team. An administration official said Mr. Gowdy, who led the House inquiry into American deaths in Benghazi, Libya, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, had agreed to represent Mr. Trump, but two others involved in the matter said it was not a done deal.

Republicans made clear they would not simply rest on defense but would mount a counteroffensive on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, to testify before his panel.

Democrats did not flinch at the suggestion. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Mr. Graham’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, said she looked forward to questioning “Rudy Giuliani under oath about his role in seeking the Ukrainian government’s assistance to investigate one of the president’s political rivals.”

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said he had not decided whether to appear before Mr. Graham’s committee but would probably follow the White House’s lead and refuse to cooperate with House Democrats. “I think the committee is a joke,” he said. “It’s the McCarthy committee on steroids. There’s no sensitivity to civil rights.”

The White House letter to Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats was part constitutional argument, part political statement. Over eight pages, Mr. Cipollone listed various ways House Democrats have diverged from precedents set during impeachment inquiries against Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Among other things, both of those inquiries were authorized by a vote of the full House, while Ms. Pelosi has opted against holding such a vote that might expose some of her more endangered members and instead simply declared by her own fiat that an impeachment inquiry was underway.

As a result, Mr. Cipollone noted, the minority Republicans did not have subpoena power to call their own witnesses. He also noted that the president’s lawyers were not allowed to participate in the questioning of witnesses, which so far has been taking place behind closed doors rather than in open session.

“Many Democrats now apparently view impeachment not only as a means to undo the democratic results of the last election, but as a strategy to influence the next election, which is barely more than a year away,” Mr. Cipollone wrote.

While Mr. Cipollone was correct that in some ways Ms. Pelosi is handling impeachment differently than her Nixon and Clinton-era predecessors, it is not clear that she has any constitutional obligation to follow those precedents. The Constitution says that the House “shall have the sole power of impeachment,” but provides no process or rules, meaning each House that has considered it has proceeded as it chose to.

For her part, Ms. Pelosi preferred on Tuesday to focus on another precedent that she might follow. One of the three articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee against Mr. Nixon in 1974 charged him with high crimes for failing to provide information during the inquiry.

Ms. Pelosi was not ready to say whether she will follow suit, but left the door open. “The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need,” she told reporters in Seattle, where she was holding an unrelated event. “It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way.”

Even before the White House released its letter, Mr. Trump signaled his defiance on Tuesday, ridiculing the inquiry as spurious.

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”

[Catch up on all the day’s news here.]

The decision to block Mr. Sondland from being interviewed was delivered at the last minute, after the ambassador had already flown to Washington from Europe, and lawmakers had returned from a two-week recess to observe the questioning. Mr. Sondland’s lawyers told House staff members that a State Department official left a voice mail message at 12:30 a.m. directing him not to appear.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the State Department was also withholding text messages Mr. Sondland had sent on a private device that were “deeply relevant” to the inquiry. By the end of the day, House leaders issued a subpoena ordering Mr. Sondland to appear next Wednesday and turn over documents before then.

Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and contributor to Mr. Trump’s campaign, has become a central figure in the saga of the president’s efforts to seek political help from Ukraine. Although Ukraine is not in the European Union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland to take a lead in his administration’s dealings with the country.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to “do us a favor” and investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and conspiracy theories about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat worked with Mr. Giuliani on language for a statement for the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The statement was seen as critical to getting Mr. Trump to agree to a coveted White House visit sought by Mr. Zelensky.

The texts also showed that the top American diplomat based in Ukraine believed that Mr. Trump was holding up $391 million in security aid as leverage for persuading Ukraine to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., the diplomat, wrote in early September.

After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.

“Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Mr. Sondland wrote in the messages. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

Mr. Sondland added, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

There have been conflicting accounts of Mr. Sondland’s views, however. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal last week that Mr. Sondland told him in August that the release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigations. Mr. Johnson said he was alarmed and asked Mr. Trump if there was a quid pro quo involved. The president adamantly denied it, he said.

Robert D. Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” he was not able to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Mr. Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill condemned Mr. Schiff for running what they described as an unfair process, but made clear they believed Mr. Sondland would have been a helpful witness for the president.

“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee.

“But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look, if it’s going to be this kind of process …’” Mr. Jordan added.

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