A former deputy to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser, John Bolton, did not appear before the Democratic-led congressional impeachment inquiry on Monday as he awaited a court ruling, lawmakers said.
Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, asked a court to rule on whether he should comply with a congressional subpoena or honor the Trump administration’s order not to testify, his lawyers said last week.
“He was a no-show. This is deeply regrettable,” Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
Kupperman was compelled to appear by a lawful congressional subpoena, Schiff said, urging other witnesses to “do their duty and show up.” At least nine others have testified despite being instructed by the White House not to do so, he said.
Kupperman was expected to provide testimony about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine brought to Congress’ attention by a report from a whistleblower about a July 25 telephone call between the U.S. president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Trump’s request to Zelenskiy that he investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, is the focus of the inquiry being conducted by the Democratic-led House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.
U.S. law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
Underscoring the deep partisanship around the investigation, Trump’s fellow Republicans defended Kupperman’s failure to appear.
“It’s not an investigation. I think the real key here is, this is not an investigation. These are a few depositions designed to get an outcome that was predetermined,” Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican, told reporters.
Trump dismissed the investigation in comments to reporters before leaving on a trip to Chicago.
“I had a great conversation with the Ukrainian president. I had another with him also, I think before that, which was the same thing, it was nothing. They tried to take that conversation and make it into a big scandal,” Trump said.
Democrats dismissed Kupperman’s suit as the latest effort by Republicans to disrupt or delay the impeachment investigation. Last week, more than two dozen party members took over the intelligence panel’s secure meeting room to protest the Democrats’ failure to hold public testimony.
GROWING WITNESS LIST
In their probe, lawmakers are also examining whether Trump withheld $391 million in security assistance until Zelenskiy publicly committed to both an investigation of the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine – not Russia – meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
The committees have interviewed a series of witnesses, including current and former diplomats and administration officials, for interviews behind closed doors that often last for eight to 10 hours.
After the Trump administration said it would not comply with the probe, the committees started issuing subpoenas to both compel testimony and provide protection against possible retribution.
Kupperman filed a lawsuit in a federal court on Friday naming Trump and House Democrats as defendants seeking “a declaratory judgment from this Court as to whether he is lawfully obliged to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Defendants demanding his testimony.”
Representative Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said Kupperman had said several times he was willing to come but “it’s up to the court.”
Schiff noted that a federal judge has validated the legality of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry and that all witnesses need to come forward when called.
Kupperman is one of several less-known U.S. officials summoned to testify this week, while Democrats keep their eye on Bolton, a more prominent player.
U.S. lawmakers running the inquiry want to hear first-hand from Bolton, who, according to earlier testimony, was alarmed by a White House effort to pressure Zelenskiy.
Schiff said he did not expect Kupperman’s failure to appear to stall the probe.
“We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of ‘rope-a-dope’ in the courts. So we press forward,” Schiff said. “We will not allow the White House to delay our investigation.”