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President Donald Trump's top White House lawyer on Wednesday told a leading Democrat that Congress does not have the right to "pursue an unauthorized 'do-over' of" special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
The lawyer, Pat Cipollone made that claim in a 12-page letter that pushed back — very hard — against the House Judiciary Committee's demands for testimony from current and past Trump administration officials, as well as for documents.
A senior White House official later accused the committee of engaging in "illegitimate oversight attempts."
Cipollone did not reject all of the Judiciary Committee's demands outright — although he did so in some cases. But even as he suggested that the Judiciary Committee "narrow the sweeping scope" of each of its requests to address Cipollone's concerns about them, he urged the panel drop its probe altogether.
"The appropriate course is for the Committee to discontinue the inquiry," Cipollone wrote Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
"Unfortunately, it appears that you have already decided to press ahead with a duplicative investigation, including by issuing subpoenas, to replow the same ground the Special Counsel has already covered."
On March 4, the committee announced it was launching an investigation "into the alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration."
"As a first step, the Committee has served document requests to 81 agencies, entities, and individuals believed to have information relevant to the investigation."
The Judiciary Committee more recently voted to recommend that Attorney General William Barr be held in contempt for failing to appear before the panel to discuss the Mueller report and its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Cipollone's letter called the rush to recommend a contempt finding for Barr "legally indefensible" because the Judiciary Committee has failed to lay out "any proper legislative purpose" for pursuing issues that Mueller already investigated.
"Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized 'do-over' of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice," Cipollone wrote.
The letter did not say that Trump was formally exercising executive privilege over materials and testimony that Nadler has requested.
Nadler fired back at Cipollone's letter, saying, "Our investigation into this as well as other troubling conduct by this Administration will continue."
In a prepared statement, Nadler called the letter an "extraordinary demand that the Committee discontinue its inquiry into obstruction of justice, public corruption, and abuses of power, including as set forth in the Mueller Report."
"We will do no such thing," Nadler said. "The White House position appears to be that the Justice Department cannot hold the President accountable, since it purportedly cannot indict him. Now it adds the extreme claim that Congress cannot act either, because that would duplicate the Special Counsel's work. This flies in the face of the American idea that no one is above the law, and I reject it."
He added: "The White House also claims it is willing to cooperate with this Committee while at the same time refusing to work with Congress to produce redacted portions of the Mueller Report, underlying documents and other materials; refusing to provide responses to our requests for information regarding family separation and the decision to not defend the ACA; and after the President has already declared that he is 'fighting all the subpoenas.' The Committee remains willing to discuss any reasonable accommodations, but accommodation takes two."
The White House has previously objected to a variety of requests for information from Democratic lawmakers on the grounds that those requests do not serve a legitimate legislative purpose.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently refused to hand over six years of Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, in part for that reason.
A senior White House official told reporters Wednesday that, "The problem is the chairman [Nadler] doesn't like the results of the investigation" by Mueller.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, accused Nadler of trying to orchestrate a "show trial" and "political theater" for Trump administration officials.
"Does anyone doubt that Chairman Nadler already has his own conclusions about what happened back in 2016?" the official asked.
If Nadler wants to get the documents and testimony he has asked for, the official said, he "has to do a better job of laying out a legitimate legislative purpose for what he's doing."
"It's not really the president's fault if the Congress is engaging in illegitimate oversight attempts," the official said. "The president is not acting in an imperial fashion, it seems to me Congress [and Nadler] are acting imperiously ... by setting forth demands for documents that are secret, that are privileged."
Read White House Counsel Pat Cipollone's letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler: