congress

Impeachment investigators pressing forward without John Bolton

“We regret Mr. Bolton’s decision not to appear voluntarily, but we have no interest in allowing the administration to play rope-a-dope with us," an Intel panel official says.

John Bolton

House impeachment investigators are moving on from John Bolton.

The former national security adviser refused to appear for his scheduled deposition Thursday morning, a House Intelligence Committee official said, and his lawyer informed the panel that Bolton would take the House to court if he is subpoenaed.

So instead of fighting a court battle that could take months, the official added, Bolton’s refusal to testify will be used as evidence of obstruction of Congress against President Donald Trump.

“We regret Mr. Bolton’s decision not to appear voluntarily, but we have no interest in allowing the administration to play rope-a-dope with us in the courts for months,” the official said. “Rather, the White House instruction that he not appear will add to the evidence of the president’s obstruction of Congress.”

Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move was yet another indication that House Democrats intend to continue, without delay, their march toward impeaching the president. It comes as Democrats are preparing to hold their first public impeachment hearings next week and as Democrats plan to draw up an article of impeachment based on obstruction of Congress. Such a measure would center on the Trump administration’s defiance of congressional subpoenas and requests for documents and witness testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry.

Bolton’s defiance of Congress comes a day after the House withdrew its subpoena for Charles Kupperman, Bolton’s former deputy who had asked a federal court to decide whether he had to comply with the subpoena. Cooper also represents Kupperman.

In withdrawing the subpoena for Kupperman, lawyers for the House told a federal court that the former aide should abide by an impending decision in the House’s bid to secure testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has said she could issue a ruling in the McGahn case before the end of the month.

The White House has claimed that current and former top presidential advisers, like McGahn and Kupperman, are “absolutely immune” from congressional testimony, and White House lawyers have stepped in to prevent senior officials from complying with requests and subpoenas seeking their testimony. Several of those current and former officials have defied those orders and testified anyway.

Bolton is not alone in abiding by the White House’s directives. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, will also not appear for his scheduled deposition on Friday, according to an administration official.

“Past Democrat and Republican administrations would not be inclined to permit senior advisers to the president to participate in such a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding — and neither is this one,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said.

Bolton and Mulvaney have intimate knowledge of efforts by Trump and his associates to pressure Ukraine to launch public investigations into the president’s political rivals, as well as the decision to withhold critical military aid to Ukraine. Impeachment investigators are examining whether the hold on military aid — in addition to refusing to arrange a White House meeting between Trump and Ukraine’s president — were tied to the investigations sought by Trump. Already, several witnesses have testified that they believed the issues were linked.

In particular, senior State Department officials have told impeachment investigators that Mulvaney was responsible for holding up the military aid to Ukraine, and that Trump directed the move. Last month, Mulvaney acknowledged that the outlines of a quid pro quo with Ukraine involving the military assistance and Trump’s desired investigations, but he later walked back those remarks.

Bolton’s former aides on the National Security Council have testified that he was alarmed at the campaign to pressure Ukraine to open Trump’s desired investigations. At least one of those former aides, Fiona Hill, told investigators Bolton urged her to take her concerns to a White House lawyer. Hill also said Bolton referred to the potential arrangement with Ukraine as a “drug deal.”

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Bolton would be willing to testify if the courts rule in the House’s favor. But as the House barrels toward public hearings next week and looks likely to vote on articles of impeachment in December, it’s unlikely Bolton will ever testify.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has fast-tracked the Kupperman case, with final oral arguments set for Dec. 10. But that date remains outside Democrats’ timetable for witness testimony in the impeachment inquiry, so the House’s lawyers asked Leon to dismiss the case on Wednesday after the subpoena was withdrawn.

Kyle Cheney and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.