Dana Milbank: Pitbull has caught the car

Dana Milbank: Pitbull has caught the car

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Friends have likened White House counsel Pat Cipollone to a pit bull. Now, he's the proverbial dog that caught the car.

For months, the Trump White House and its congressional chorus have clamored for Democrats to allow President Trump's counsel to be present at impeachment proceedings.

Trump and his supporters have shared that the impeachment resolution is unfair because it "doesn't allow POTUS' counsel to be present to question witnesses."

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley complained that "we can't question witnesses; we can't have a conversation with those who are in front of the committees." A White House official briefing reporters lamented the president's inability "to have counsel present."

GOP Reps. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Steve Scalise (La.), Michael McCaul (Texas), Tom Cole (Okla.) and many others have howled that Trump should have counsel present.

And so it came to pass that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., last week sent a letter to Trump inviting him and his counsel to participate in this week's first impeachment hearing before the panel and to gauge their interest in questioning the witnesses.

Trump's reply? "We do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing," Cipollone wrote Sunday night.

In sending the White House's regrets, Cipollone tossed in a maybe-next-time formulation: "We may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully."

How good of them!

This is the White House that can't take "yes" for an answer.

Trump and his allies complained about secret proceedings. The proceedings were made public.

They complained that there was no formal impeachment resolution. A formal resolution was passed.

They complained that deposition transcripts weren't released. The transcripts were released.

And still, no cooperation.

They complained that Democrats should hurry up and "move on" from impeachment. But as Democrats work to wrap up impeachment quickly, Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, complained Sunday that "we're rushing this."

Now, we have the president's lawyer complaining that Trump "was allowed absolutely no participation" -- and yet refusing to participate when invited.

Instead, they are in the ridiculous position of arguing that Trump and his representatives did absolutely nothing wrong, and of doing all they can to delegitimize Congress' impeachment powers.

Thus did we have Collins on "Fox News Sunday," maintaining that "there's nothing here that the president did wrong" and "nothing improper." The improprieties were everybody else's: Adam Schiff's "motives" and "veracity," Nadler's "crazy" letters, something about the witness "ratio" at hearings and host Chris Wallace's flawed premises.

"You're pretty wound up, I've got to say," Wallace observed.

Better wound up than unwound, as Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., showed himself to be. A week after he embraced Russian propaganda over U.S. intelligence on Wallace's show, Kennedy went one step further in advancing Russia's attempt to frame Ukraine for its 2016 election interference, telling NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday that Ukraine's then-president "actively worked for Secretary Clinton."

That's exactly the sort of Russian disinformation that intelligence officials, in a recent briefing, pleaded with senators not to spread. "I wasn't briefed," Kennedy said.

Nor was he briefed, apparently, on the invitation for Trump and his counsel to participate in the impeachment hearing.

"His lawyer can't even be there," the senator complained. "Have they allowed him to have his lawyer present? No." Kennedy, brushing aside the unhelpful fact that Trump hasn't allowed his advisers to testify or to provide documents to the inquiry, further claimed that Trump hasn't been given a chance to clear himself.

Such claims can't withstand the light of day. And this is why Trump won't honor the invitation to participate or even the subpoenas demanding it: He can't tell his side of the story because there isn't one.

Dana Milbank writes for the Washington Post.

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