National-Security Figure a No-Show in Impeachment Probe

WASHINGTON (CN) – The onetime deputy under former national security adviser John Bolton could be courting contempt of Congress after he failed to show Monday in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Charles Kupperman, who resigned in September shortly after Bolton was ousted, defended his absence as he awaits a ruling from the court where he sued Friday to settle what he called “constitutional immunity” issues at play.

“Given the issue of separation of powers in this matter, it would be reasonable and appropriate to expect that all parties would want judicial clarity,” Kupperman said in a statement Monday.

The lawsuit has drew rebuke from Democratic committee chairs conducting the impeachment inquiry.

In a letter sent Saturday to Kupperman’s attorney Charles Cooper, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York and House Oversight Committee acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote: “Dr. Kupperman’s lawsuit — lacking in legal merit and apparently coordinated with the White House — is an obvious and desperate tactic by the President to delay and obstruct the lawful constitutional functions of Congress and conceal evidence about his conduct from the impeachment inquiry.”

Though Kupperman was ordered by White House counsel Pat Cipollone not to answer the subpoena, Cooper says the White House had no foreknowledge of the lawsuit nor was there coordination between Kupperman or the president. 

Schiff, Engel and Maloney had warned throughout the weekend that Kupperman’s failure to appear would trigger contempt proceedings, but Schiff backed down from those threats Monday.

 “We are not willing to let the White House engage us in a lengthy game of rope a dope in the courts, so we press ahead,” Schiff told reporters before also noting that a private citizen cannot sue Congress to avoid appearing for testimony.

Democrats believe Kupperman may have been listening in on July 25 when President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky spoke on the phone in a call that insiders later flagged for an illegal quid pro quo.

During the call, Trump urged Zelensky to have Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his expected 2020 election opponent, while withholding military aid earmarked for Ukraine by Congress.

A foreign policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan, Kupperman also served in several high-ranking administrative roles for NASA, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the Office of Personal Management, and the Office of Administration. He later worked as an executive for Boeing and Lockheed Martin before joining the Trump administration in January.

Civil rights groups had balked at Kupperman’s nomination by Trump, citing association his the Center for Security Policy. The center is a conservative think tank that, historically, has promoted anti-Muslim rhetoric and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Kupperman served on the center’s board from 2001 to 2010.

Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry are scheduled to take deposition Tuesday from National Security Council director Alex Vindman. It is unclear if Vindman will comply.

In earlier testimony, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor told lawmakers he had heard from Vindman that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told a senior Zelensky aide that U.S. military assistance wouldn’t flow to Ukraine unless Zelensky agreed to investigate Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy firm where Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, served on the board.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs with the Department of Defense, is set to appear for deposition Wednesday. Lawmakers think she could fill in gaps about what the Pentagon knew and when it knew about the freeze of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Catherine Croft, the State Department’s special adviser for Ukraine is also scheduled for deposition Wednesday. So too is Christopher Anderson, a former special adviser to Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

Text messages published by House Democrats show Volker and Sondland working closely to arrange a possible White House visit for Zelensky. 

Then on Thursday, Tim Morrison, the senior director for Russian affairs at the National Security Council, is expected to testify behind closed doors. Morrison’s attorney Barbara Van Gelder said last week that Morrison would appear even if the White House tried to block him. 

Lawmakers believe Morrison was on the July 25 call. His name also came up repeatedly during Taylor’s deposition. According to reports of Taylor’s testimony, Morrison informed Taylor about talks between Sondland and senior officials from Ukraine. Morrison also reportedly told Taylor that Sondland informed officials military aid hinged on Ukraine’s opening of political investigations at Trump’s behest.

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