It's tempting to ignore Trump’s unhinged letter to Congress. But this is different.
The president is asserting autocratic authority to ignore the people’s elected representatives and the Constitution that governs them. This is a new stage in an already dangerous presidency.
The letter, astonishingly signed by an individual with a law degree, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, declares that the president will cooperate in no way with the House’s impeachment inquiry. It follows a White House order that a key executive branch witness may not testify before Congress. “You seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen,” Mr. Cipollone fumes. “The President cannot allow your constitutionally illegitimate proceedings to distract him and those in the Executive Branch.”
To bolster his case, Mr. Cipollone invents restrictions on how the House may conduct impeachment inquiries, even though the Constitution vests the House with “the sole power of impeachment” and specifies that the House “may determine the rules of its proceedings.” Mr. Cipollone also argues that the case against Mr. Trump is so weak, the president’s behavior so “completely appropriate,” that the House’s motive must be illegitimate. It is House Democrats, he insists, who must be investigated.
“Bananas”; “a barely-lawyered temper tantrum”; “pure hackery”: These are just some of the words that Republican lawyers have used to describe Mr. Cipollone’s screed.
In fact, the Constitution unambiguously empowers the House to conduct an impeachment, and it grants the president no authority to impede it. If members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — do not flatly reject Mr. Trump’s letter, they will humiliate themselves and shred the constitutional order. They cannot allow the president to say that the law is not the law.