House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump has already produced an astonishing amount of damning evidence, mostly provided by career public servants and appointees serving outside the walls of the West Wing. But as Democrats aim to secure testimony from high-ranking White House officials such as former national security adviser John Bolton, they will have a new legal arrow in their quiver.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement Monday that the full House will vote on a formal impeachment resolution Thursday will put a final dagger through any remaining claim by the White House that the inquiry “lacks the necessary authorization” of a formal impeachment proceeding. Indeed, a federal judge ruled last week in a separate matter that the House inquiry was legally valid despite the lack of a formal vote. But the formal vote could provide a final push of legal momentum as the House works to compel the testimony of Trump’s inner circle of aides. Some observers view the case of former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman as a test for whether the courts will side with Congress or the White House as Trump seeks to erect a wall around his inner circle of advisers through “absolute immunity” claims (i.e. executive privilege on steroids). Kupperman has asked a federal court to rule on whether a House subpoena for his testimony is valid and enforceable. The case was assigned on Monday to a federal judge from the U.S. District Court in D.C. Bolton is said to be watching for the outcome of that proceeding as he weighs whether to testify himself.
But also on the line are subpoenas seeking testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani—all of whom could provide crucial first-hand knowledge of Trump’s actions and intentions. Their efforts to avoid testifying will get just that much harder after Thursday.