The Trump Impeachment Inquiry: The Week Ahead

  • Congress will be on a weeklong break, but the committees and staff conducting the investigation will continue interviewing a number of important witnesses, making next week a crucial phase before public hearings begin.

  • Monday is a busy day, with investigators scheduled to talk to Robert Blair, an aide to Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff. They’re also supposed to talk to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer on the National Security Council, and his deputy, Michael Ellis.

  • On Tuesday, a White House budget official, Michael Duffey, is scheduled to testify; on Wednesday, investigators want to talk to T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department adviser close to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

  • On Thursday — and this is a big one — it could be John Bolton’s turn. The former national security adviser would be the closest person to President Trump to testify. Multiple witnesses have said he objected to the president’s dealings with Ukraine. But his lawyer said he would not appear voluntarily, and it’s not clear how he will respond to a subpoena.

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One test case that could shed light on Mr. Bolton’s decision: Earlier this week, Charles Kupperman, his former National Security Council deputy, defied a subpoena to appear before investigators and asked federal courts to decide whether he needed to testify. I asked my colleague Mike Schmidt, who has written about Mr. Kupperman, how it could all play out.

Mike, what did Mr. Kupperman do that’s so much different than the other witnesses we’ve had in the investigation?

Mr. Kupperman was in a Catch-22: The House had subpoenaed him and the White House had invoked “constitutional immunity,” which is essentially executive privilege on steroids. So instead of making the decision himself about which branch of government he should listen to, Mr. Kupperman turned to the courts. He was the first witness to do this. It’s a big deal.


Up until Mr. Kupperman did this, House Democrats had real momentum to their investigation. So when this happened, and a guy like Mr. Kupperman didn’t show up on Monday, there isn’t a story in the paper that Mr. Kupperman said this, or Mr. Kupperman said that. If Democrats want to drag this into 2020, they can go to court. But Adam Schiff already said they wouldn’t do that.

Why might Mr. Kupperman be valuable to Democrats in the long run?

Someone like Mr. Bolton or Mr. Kupperman testifying against the president could be very powerful with bedrock Republicans. The problem for the Democrats is that Mr. Kupperman is represented by the same lawyer as Mr. Bolton, Charles Cooper, who said on Wednesday that Mr. Bolton won’t testify voluntarily. He’s likely to handle the request for Mr. Bolton the same way.

Yesterday’s vote on the rules and procedures guiding the impeachment investigation was a reminder of one big difference between this inquiry and previous impeachments: There is no independent counsel to gather documents and interview witnesses for Congress, so lawmakers are doing it themselves.

“You don’t have the months and months of research that you had in the Starr and Cox and Jaworski investigations,” said Philip Bobbitt, a law professor at Columbia and impeachment scholar, referring to the independent counsels that investigated Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

The modern-day equivalent would be the report written by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. But since Democrats built their impeachment around President Trump’s separate conduct with Ukraine, Mr. Bobbitt said, “they worked from scratch.”

  • In our Opinion pages, the columnist David Leonhardt makes the case that if Democrats want to keep their impeachment momentum going through next year’s election, they would be smart to focus on corruption, not character.

  • A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans are evenly divided on impeachment: 49 percent say the president should be removed from office, while 47 percent say he should not. Among Democrats, 82 percent are in favor of removing Mr. Trump and 13 are percent opposed. For Republicans, it’s almost the reverse: 82 percent opposed, 18 percent in favor.

  • In an interview with The Washington Examiner, President Trump said that he would like to host a televised “fireside chat” to read the transcript of his call with the president of Ukraine aloud. “People have to hear it,” he said. “When you read it, it’s a straight call.”

  • After activists from repeatedly asked Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, about foreign interference in elections, he found a novel way to avoid answering them: He head-butted the camera.

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