Donald Trump on Wednesday called for outing the whistleblower behind the impeachment inquiry threatening his presidency and sought to transform the entire scandal into a boost for his 2020 reelection campaign.
Trump began his attempt to crush impeachment on Tuesday with a breathtaking show of defiance to Congress.
In an eight-page letter signed by the White House counsel, the administration bluntly announced it would not cooperate with the Democratic-led House of Representatives, calling its impeachment push illegitimate.
Democrats responded by accusing Trump of stonewalling and obstruction.
"No one is above the law, not even President Trump," the Democratic majority leader in the House, Steny Hoyer, said Wednesday.
Now Trump is demanding that the whistleblower, who reported the president's alleged pressure on Ukraine to dig up dirt on Democratic election rival Joe Biden, be exposed. The identity of whistleblowers is protected by law.
On Twitter, which Trump is using to bombard the public with conspiracy theories about a secret "deep state" trying to remove him from power, the president argued that the whistleblower had been shown to be partisan and inaccurate.
"The Whistleblower's facts have been so incorrect about my 'no pressure' conversation with the Ukrainian President, and now the conflict of interest and involvement with a Democrat Candidate, that he or she should be exposed and questioned," Trump tweeted.
In another tweet he dismissed the impeachment process as a Democratic bid to influence the election, saying "their total focus is 2020, nothing more."
Trump, who broke with precedent by campaigning for reelection almost from the moment he took office in 2017, is himself pouncing on the impeachment as the new cornerstone of his 2020 effort.
He and the Republican Party have pushed hard to raise funds off the back of their accusation of unfair treatment from the Democratic lower house in Congress.
And on Thursday and Friday, Trump will take that message to his core supporters when he holds campaign rallies in Minneapolis and in Louisiana.
- Constitution under strain -
Even if the House impeaches Trump, it remains unlikely that the Republican-led Senate would convict him in the subsequent trial.
However, Trump's already turbulent presidency would be forever associated with the impeachment.
The former real estate salesman's furious response is in keeping with his established style of never admitting to being wrong and doing whatever it takes to fight back.
"The good news is that WE WILL WIN!!!!" he exclaimed in one of his tweets early Wednesday.
But the point blank refusal to accept the House's authority to investigate his alleged abuse of office puts the legislature and executive branches on a collision course that will strain the constitution, if not lead to a full-blown constitutional crisis.
"This is a historic showdown and, I would say, a struggle for the soul of American democracy," Chris Edelson, who teaches government at American University, said.
Edelson predicted that even if the White House stalls, refusing to answer requests for documents and witnesses, the House will go ahead with an impeachment vote in the coming months.
- Ukrainian phone call -
Pelosi formally launched the impeachment inquiry last month after revelations Trump pressured Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call.
In the call, Trump asked Zelensky to look into what the US leader said were corrupt business deals involving Biden.
Democrats say that Trump tried to coerce Zelensky by holding back US military aid to Ukraine. Trump says there was no quid pro quo and that his only desire is to combat corruption.
He subsequently said publicly that he would also like China to investigate Biden, something critics say bolsters the allegation that Trump is seeking foreign help to discredit opponents.
- Witness blocked -
On Tuesday, the Trump administration blocked a potentially major witness, ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress. Democrats then slapped Sondland with a subpoena to appear on October 16.
"The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents" was "additional strong evidence of obstruction," House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said.
Lawmakers want to hear on Friday from another key witness: former US ambassador to Kiev Marie Yovanovitch, who is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.
US media has reported that Trump removed her from her post because she opposed his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden.