Mulvaney Will Defy House Impeachment Subpoena

WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, reversed gears on Tuesday and said he would follow President Trump’s order to defy a House subpoena and refuse to testify as part of its impeachment inquiry rather than seek a judge’s ruling.

“After further consideration, Mr. Mulvaney does not intend to pursue litigation regarding the deposition subpoena issued to him by the U.S. House of Representatives,” his lawyers said in a notice filed in court. “Rather, he will rely on the direction of the president” and government lawyers “in not appearing for the relevant deposition.”

The decision was the latest twist in an odd subplot in the impeachment drama that raised questions about Mr. Mulvaney’s relationship with the president and exposed long-simmering disputes within Mr. Trump’s circle. While other current administration officials have either obeyed the president’s order not to cooperate with the House or defied Mr. Trump and testified anyway, Mr. Mulvaney had sought a third route by seeking to join an existing lawsuit asking a court what he should do.

The plaintiff in that existing lawsuit, Charles M. Kupperman, who served as a deputy to John R. Bolton when Mr. Bolton was the president’s national security adviser, wanted nothing to do with Mr. Mulvaney and fought his attempt to be added to the litigation.

After a judge indicated on Monday that he was inclined to side with Mr. Kupperman to keep Mr. Mulvaney out of the suit, Mr. Mulvaney withdrew his request and said he would file a lawsuit of his own. Then he changed his mind again.

Mr. Mulvaney has become a key figure in the House impeachment inquiry, which begins public hearings on Wednesday. He carried out the president’s order to suspend $391 million in security aid to Ukraine at the same time Mr. Trump was pressuring that country’s leader to provide damaging information about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

According to testimony gathered by House investigators, Mr. Mulvaney helped facilitate the pressure campaign while Mr. Bolton resisted it. At one point, Mr. Bolton declared that he would have no part in the “drug deal” that Mr. Mulvaney and other allies of the president were concocting and directed a deputy to report details of the scheme to a White House lawyer.

Mr. Mulvaney last month effectively confirmed the quid pro quo Democrats were trying to prove by publicly acknowledging that Mr. Trump held up the security aid in part to force Ukraine to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine aiding Democrats in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Mulvaney tried to disavow his admission hours later.

House Democrats have argued that Mr. Mulvaney can hardly claim a presidential immunity to refuse to testify about matters that he was willing to discuss in the White House briefing room. But it remained unclear how far they would go to try to compel him to cooperate in the impeachment inquiry.

The House can vote to hold anyone who defies a subpoena in contempt, but Democrats so far have not pursued such action out of a reluctance to delay their impeachment proceedings. They withdrew a subpoena for Mr. Kupperman after he filed his lawsuit. Instead, Democrats have said they may cite the refusal of various administration officials to testify under orders from the president as an obstruction of Congress that could be its own article of impeachment.

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