Congress has no right to 'do-over' of Russia probe: White House counsel

(Reuters) – Congress has no right to conduct a “do-over” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, the White House said in a letter blasting House Democrats’ “sweeping” requests for documents as an effort to harass political opponents.

The May 15 letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone to House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler says the committee’s probe serves no legitimate legislative purpose.

The letter was drafted in response to Nadler’s March 4 request for documents from the White House for a congressional investigation of allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption and other abuses of power.

Cipollone asked the panel to narrow its “sweeping” request and provide a legislative purpose, and said many documents would be entitled to be withheld under executive privilege.

“The White House will not participate in the committee’s ‘investigation’ that brushes aside the conclusions of the Department of Justice after a two-year-long effort in favor of political theater pre-ordained to reach a preconceived and false result,” Cipollone’s 12-page letter said.

A spokesman for Nadler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The documents requested relate to everything from the contents of Trump’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his communications with former White House counsel Donald McGahn, the firing of former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn and former FBI director James Comey, and possible pardons for Trump associates who pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the probe.

The committee also seeks documents aimed at probing whether Trump has used the White House to enrich himself in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

In his 448-page redacted report released last month, Mueller described numerous links between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and various Russians but concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish that the campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.

It also described attempts by Trump to impede Mueller’s probe, but stopped short of declaring Trump committed a crime.

Democrats argue they are executing their constitutional powers as a check on the executive branch, saying Republicans failed to do so during Trump’s first two years in office.  

As part of his committee’s probe, Nadler also has demanded documents from 80 other people, government agencies and other groups, including Trump family members, current and former business employees, campaign staff, former White House aides and the FBI, White House and WikiLeaks.

The White House says Trump did not waive his right to executive privilege in connection with material provided to Mueller, as Democrats argue, and that other communications also are not subject to disclosure, such as confidential communications between the president and foreign leaders.

The White House response is in line with Trump’s defiant approach to congressional investigations of his presidency and business interests.

Trump sued to block a congressional subpoena for financial records from his accounting firm. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to release Trump’s tax returns to Congress. At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, he suggested the issue may be decided by the courts.

Last week the White House directed McGahn not to abide by a subpoena for his testimony. A hearing is scheduled for May 21 but it is unclear whether McGahn will show up.

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