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White House says it won't participate in impeachment hearing

Updated: 2019-12-02 10:11
A Capitol Hill Police officer is silhouetted before a Trump-Zelensky call record on a screen, as Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, political counselor at the US Embassy in Kiev, testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Nov 21, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - The White House told Democratic lawmakers on Sunday that US President Donald Trump would not send legal counsel to participate in a congressional impeachment hearing this week, citing a lack of "fundamental fairness".

The White House's decision was in response to the first of two crucial deadlines it faces in Congress this week as Democrats prepared to shift the focus of their impeachment inquiry from fact-finding to the consideration of possible charges of misconduct over Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, tasked with considering charges known as articles of impeachment, had given Trump until 6 pm (2300 GMT) on Sunday to say whether he would dispatch a lawyer to take part in the judiciary panel's proceeding on Wednesday.

"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," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, according to a copy of a letter seen by Reuters.

Cipollone - who cited a "complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president" in the impeachment process - added the White House would respond separately by a Friday deadline on whether Trump would mount a defense in further impeachment proceedings.

The Judiciary Committee's Democratic staff did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the White House's refusal to participate in the hearing, which would have been the first direct involvement by the Trump camp in a process he has condemned as a partisan "witch hunt".

Congressional investigators have been looking into whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations of former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who is running to unseat him in the 2020 presidential election.

The first-in-a-series of expected Judiciary proceedings will hear testimony on the impeachment process established under the US Constitution from a panel of legal experts that has yet to be named.

Hearings before the committee, which has responsibility for crafting any formal charges against Trump, are a major step toward possible charges. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will make the final decision, has not yet said whether the Republican president should be impeached. But in a letter to supporters last week, she called for him to be held accountable for his actions.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, calling the impeachment inquiry a sham.

Nadler also set a second deadline of 5 pm (2200 GMT) on Friday for Trump to say whether he or his legal counsel would participate in further proceedings expected next week to examine evidence against him.

Three investigating panels, led by the House Intelligence Committee, are due to release a formal report this week when lawmakers return on Tuesday from a Thanksgiving recess. The report will outline evidence gathered by the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

Members of the intelligence panel will review the report in a classified setting on Monday evening, and the full committee will consider and vote on it on Tuesday before forwarding it to the Judiciary Committee, according to an Intelligence Committee official and a person familiar with the matter.

Reuters

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