WASHINGTON (CN) — The lawyer for John Bolton denied Tuesday that a federal judge’s stinging rebuke of immunity for top White House aides has any bearing on his client’s refusal to comply with impeachment investigators.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had not minced words in her 120-page ruling Monday, which says the president cannot claim ownership over the testimonial immunity of his aides.
“Stated simply … presidents are not kings,” she wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Moreover, as citizens of the United States, current and former senior-level presidential aides have constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, and they retain these rights even after they have transitioned back into private life.”
Though the ruling came in the case of Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who is fighting a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee, reports quickly emerged about its implications for Bolton and other reluctant witnesses in the impeachment probe underway before the House Intelligence Committee.
Bolton and his former deputy Charles Kupperman are both represented by Charles Cooper. In a statement Tuesday that made no mention of Bolton, Cooper sought to distinguish Kupperman’s situation from that of McGahn, an aide he said is unlikely to be asked about matters of national security and foreign affairs.
“Therefore, any passing references in the McGahn decision to presidential communications concerning national security matters are not authoritative on the validity of testimonial immunity for close White House advisors, like Dr. Kupperman, whose responsibilities are focused exclusively on providing information and advice to the president on national security,” Cooper wrote.
In her ruling, meanwhile, Jackson slammed the Justice Department’s failure to prove that access to classified material warrants “absolute testimonial immunity.”
Jackson also balked at the claim that President Donald Trump holds the authority to forever block former aides from speaking openly about their time in the White House.
“As a matter of pure logic, it would seem that if one’s access to the Oval Office is the reason that a categorical exemption from compelled congressional process is warranted, then that trump card should, at most, be a raincheck, and not the lifetime pass that DOJ proposes,” Jackson wrote.
Kupperman filed a federal lawsuit last month in Washington asking a judge to decide if he was obligated to answer a House subpoena to testify on matters relating to the investigation into Trump illegally pressuring Ukraine.
After acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sought to join the case — he has also refused to testify — the House withdrew Kupperman’s subpoena, potentially rendering the case moot. Mulvaney in turn retracted the motion to intervene, saying he will follow Trump’s directive not to testify.
In a letter earlier this month to committees investigating Trump, Cooper noted that Bolton has firsthand knowledge of “relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”
The lawyer has indicated that Bolton may join in Kupperman’s lawsuit, which remains pending.
House Democrats have repeatedly said they will not slow the impeachment process waiting on the courts to adjudicate cases filed by Trump aides barred by the White House from testifying.
Months before the Ukraine whistleblower set off the formal impeachment inquiry, the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed McGahn to testify in its investigation of possible obstruction of justice by Trump during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up obstruction of justice along with the Ukraine probe in the next phase of impeachment hearings.
The Justice Department announced an appeal of the McGahn ruling on Tuesday.