Mulvaney Aide Among Those Declining to Testify in Impeachment Inquiry

November 4, 2019 Updated: November 4, 2019

Four White House officials, including the top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, won’t testify in the impeachment inquiry on Monday.

The White House had directed officials not to comply with the inquiry because of executive privilege.

Robert Blair, assistant to President Donald Trump and senior adviser to Mulvaney, won’t appear “pursuant to direction from the White House, which is based on advice from the Department of Justice,” his attorney, Whit Ellerman, told Politico.

Blair wouldn’t appear even if he was subpoenaed, Ellerman said. The “direction from the White House and advice from DOJ cover subpoena.”

Three other White House aides were summoned to testify on Monday but weren’t going to participate.

Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources energy and science at the Office of Management and Budget, declined to appear to answer questions in a closed-door hearing.

The other two aides slated to testify—John Eisenberg, deputy counsel to the president for National Security Affairs, and Michael Ellis, senior associate counsel to the president—also weren’t going to appear.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to William Burck, Eisenberg’s attorney, over the weekend that the Department of Justice advised him that Eisenberg was “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters related to his service as a senior adviser to the President.” In another letter, Burck notified House Democrats on Monday that his client wouldn’t be appearing, noting the subpoena issued to try to force Eisenberg to appear didn’t come until Friday.

“Even if Mr. Eisenberg had been afforded a reasonable amount of time to prepare, the President has instructed Mr. Eisenberg not to appear at the deposition,” Burck wrote.

adam schiff
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) (C) attends a press conference after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on President Donald Trump in Washington on Oct. 31, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Two other officials, Michael Duffey and Russel Vought, both of the Office of Management and Budget, were also not going to appear for depositions scheduled by House Democrats later this week, a source told CNN.

A former aide, Charles Kupperman, has asked a federal judge to rule whether he should obey Trump’s direction or comply with House Democrat efforts.

The judge set a trial date for Dec. 10 and pushed back when a Department of Justice lawyer asked for more time to file briefs because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“When it’s a matter of this consequence to this country you roll your sleeves up and get the job done,” Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, a President George W. Bush appointee, told her on Oct. 31.

Other officials have testified in the inquiry.

Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council director for European affairs, told lawmakers that he was concerned about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman told lawmakers on Oct. 29, according to a copy of his prepared statement, referring to Trump’s request for Zelensky to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

Joe Biden in 2016 pressured then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko into ousting Viktor Shokin, a prosecutor who was probing Hunter Biden’s employer Burisma.

“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel,” Vindman testified.

But Tim Morrison, senior director for European affairs at the White House and the National Security Council, said in his testimony that there was nothing illegal in the phone call.

He was concerned, he said, that the transcript would leak to the media.

“I had three concerns about a potential leak of the MemCon: first, how it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment; second, how a leak would affect the bipartisan support our Ukrainian partners currently experience in Congress; and third, how it would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S.–Ukraine relationship,” Morrison said in his opening statement.

“I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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