November 13, 2019, 22:42

Obey White House or subpoena? Witness in impeachment probe asks judge to decide

Obey White House or subpoena? Witness in impeachment probe asks judge to decide

Attorneys representing President Donald Trump, the House of Representatives and Charles Kupperman, the president’s former deputy national security adviser, will appear in federal court Thursday in a case in which Kupperman is asking a judge the decide whether he must submit to questioning in the House impeachment inquiry.

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The case is the latest twist in White House efforts to block all former and current administration officials from testifying or otherwise cooperating with the Democrat-led probe.

(MORE: Former National Security official asks judge to determine if he must testify in impeachment probe)

Kupperman was subpoenaed by House Democrats on Friday. The White House, however, has maintained that Kupperman is entitled to what it calls constitutional immunity, arguing, “Congress may not constitutionally compel the president’s senior advisers to testify about their official duties” due to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Late Friday, Kupperman’s attorney filed a civil suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., asking a judge to sort out the “irreconcilable commands” coming from Congress and the executive branch.

Kupperman was scheduled to appear for testimony in the House investigation on Monday but did not appear. In a letter to House Democrats, Charles Cooper, Kupperman’s attorney, stated that Kupperman would likely not comply with the subpoena until the court had ruled.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., second from right, speaks with members of the media after former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman signaled that he would not appear as scheduled for a closed door meeting.

Cooper wrote in a letter to lawyers for the House that, if a judge found the House’s subpoena to be enforceable, Kupperman would comply with it, and blamed Kupperman’s failure to appear on instructions from the president.

“It is not Dr. Kupperman who contests to your client’s constitutional claim,” Cooper said. “It is President Trump, and every President before him for at least half a century, who have asserted testimonial immunity for their closest advisors.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Monday slammed the White House and Kupperman for his failure to appear, and told reporters that Kupperman could be held in contempt of Congress.

(MORE: From a controversial phone call to impeachment calls: A Trump whistleblower timeline)

“We will not allow the White House to delay our investigation,” Schiff said. “Any acts of obstruction like this, any effort to prevent the Congress and therefore the American people from learning more about the president’s misconduct will merely build a public case for obstruction of Congress by this President.”

The judge’s decision in the case could have a significant impact on whether other executive branch personnel appear before the committee, as the ruling would determine whether arguments of executive branch immunity apply to some other administration officials as well.

The case asks the judge to determine whether the subpoena issued by the House committee is valid under House rules, which, if found invalid, would likely call into question other subpoenas issued to other possible witnesses. It also asks to the judge to consider the president’s assertion of immunity over Kupperman’s testimony, though the request is specific to Kupperman.

(MORE: Former national security adviser John Bolton asked to testify in impeachment inquiry)

Kupperman’s attorney also represents former National Security Adviser John Bolton, and it’s likely that the decision in Kupperman’s case would influence whether Bolton would appear before Congress if subpoenaed.

Thursday’s hearing is listed as a status conference. Judges generally use these sort of hearings to plan for future filings and arguments. However, the judge in this case cited the the time sensitive nature of Kupperman’s case when scheduling the hearing, so it is unclear whether the judge will hear arguments or consider a ruling.


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