White House rejects Dem requests for info on Putin communications

Counsel says communications protected

Copyright 2019 CNN

The White House is rejecting a request from congressional Democrats to obtain documents tied to President Donald Trump's communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a letter to three Democratic committee chairmen, White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that the courts have long established that presidential communications with foreign leaders are protected and confidential.

"The President must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes," Cipollone wrote in the letter, obtained by CNN. "And foreign leaders must be assured of this as well."

Three Democrats -- House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings -- sent a letter to the White House earlier this month asking for information on communications between Trump and Putin.

The Democrats say they're investigating whether the President his associates attempted to conceal or misrepresent the nature of Trump's contacts with Putin. Schiff, Engel and Cummings are still mulling whether to subpoena the translators of Trump's meetings with Putin, following reports that Trump kept his aides in the dark about the meetings and took his interpreter's notes following his 2017 meeting with Putin in Germany.

The chairmen responded to Cipollone's letter Thursday, confirming they had seen the rejection.

"Our Committees are in receipt of the White House Counsel's letter, which continues a troubling pattern by the Trump Administration of rejecting legitimate and necessary congressional oversight with no regard for precedent or the constitution," the chairmen wrote in a statement.

Thursday's letter is the latest instance in which the White House has rejected documents requests from House Democrats who are investigating the Trump administration on a whole host of issues.

Cummings wrote in an op-ed this week that his committee had not received any documents yet from the White House on any topic his committee is probing, while the White House missed a Monday deadline set by the House Judiciary Committee to respond to a document request for their investigation.

"The White House is engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction," Cummings wrote.

In his letter, Cipollone argued that the courts have long respected the executive branch's right to conduct foreign policy without interference from the legislative branch.

"Presidents from all political parties have determined that the law does not require the Executive Branch to provide Congress with documents relating to confidential diplomatic communications between the President and foreign leaders," he wrote. "No foreign leader would engage in private conversations with the President, or the President's senior advisors, if such conversations were subject to public disclosure (or disclosure to committees of Congress)."

In a sign of growing tension between the White House and House Democrats, Cipollone also chided the committees for being "unwilling to make reasonable efforts" to accommodate the executive branch's interests.

"It appears that the practice of the Committees has been to request information that the Committees have no legal entitlement to receive and then to unfairly criticize the White House for simply adhering to consistent bipartisan past practice in its response," he wrote.

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