At first glance this looks like a briar-patch strategy, and to some extent it might be, but it’s also a tactical move intended to legitimize the next phase of White House strategy. According to both Fox News and Axios, Donald Trump will send Nancy Pelosi a letter today essentially daring her to hold a full House vote on an impeachment inquiry. Until one passes, the letter will declare, the administration will produce no witnesses or documentation for committees attempting an impeachment on the cheap:

The White House is planning to send Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter as soon as Friday arguing that President Trump and his team can ignore lawmakers’ demands until she holds a full House vote formally approving an impeachment inquiry, 2 sources familiar with the letter tell Axios.

Why it matters: By putting in writing the case that Trump and his supporters have been making verbally for days, the White House is preparing for a court fight and arguing to the public that its resistance to Congress’ requests is justified.

  • Trump wants to force House Democrats in vulnerable races to be on the record if they favor pursuing impeachment, these sources tell us.
  • Republicans also say the minority party can exert more influence over hearings and other aspects of an inquiry once it is formalized with a vote.
  • By calling this an inquiry without holding a vote, Pelosi and the Democratic committee chairmen are having it both ways, one official said. “They want to be a little bit pregnant.”

They’ve been “a little bit pregnant” for well nigh unto three years. Until last week’s “Alea iacta est” declaration from Nancy Pelosi, however, Democrats had a way of eliding that fact for political purposes, while still claiming in court the privileges of an impeachment probe. Pelosi’s declaration stripped away that fig leaf, and now Trump wants Pelosi to fish or cut bait.

A full House vote to start an impeachment inquiry therefore holds lower risk for Trump than his current predicament. If the full House does vote to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, then it will look like the effort to remove him has gained momentum … which it unquestionably has, but only among Democrats. However, it will then force Pelosi to adopt formal impeachment processes, outlined in detail by Kevin McCarthy yesterday, that will afford the GOP and the White House a lot more input and control than either have in the current, chaotic ad hoc process. Most if not all of that reflects historical norms and basic fairness within the American legal/judicial process, but it necessarily will require a restart and a slower pace going forward, neither of which Pelosi would prefer.

This triple-dog-dare only works if the Trump administration can make good on its threat to completely cut off cooperation without a formal inquiry. It’s unlikely that courts will curtail committee subpoena powers in that kind of a standoff, but the White House can certainly stall House Democrats in court for quite a while first. Courts have already expressed some skepticism about giving the House the range they demand without opening up a formal impeachment process first.

So far, Democrats don’t think much of McCarthy’s demands or of Trump’s briar-patch play, Fox reported:

A senior Democratic aide told Fox News on Thursday, “As we continue to follow the facts, it would behoove the president to come up with something more persuasive than Kevin McCarthy’s pathetic and bogus process arguments,” following reports of the White House’s letter to Pelosi, first reported by Axios.

“Given that the president just this morning on national television urged yet another foreign government to meddle in our upcoming 2020 elections, we would think the White House would want to mount a rigorous defense of the president’s clear betrayal of his oath of office,” the aide said.

True, but they’d also like a fair opportunity to mount that defense. Why would Democrats object to that?