Multiple White House officials refused to obey summons to testify at a closed-door impeachment investigation on Nov. 4.
National Security Council (NSC) Lawyer John Eisenberg, NSC Senior Associate Counsel Michael Ellis, Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for Natural Resources Brian McCormack, and Robert Blair, a senior adviser to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defied subpoenas to join their scheduled depositions with House Democrats in private.
The four acted on legal advice from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone who said the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel confirmed high-ranking advisers to Donald Trump enjoy “absolute immunity” from congressional subpoenas for testimony according to CBS News.
“You have asked whether the committee may compel Mr. Eisenberg to testify,” Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel said in letter obtained by Breitbart dated Nov. 3. “We conclude that he is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony in his capacity as a senior adviser to the president.”
Cipollone informed Eisenberg’s Lawyer William Burck the president had directed the White House attorney “not to appear at the committee’s deposition.”
Eisenber and Blair were due to be interviewed at 9 a.m. local time while both Ellis and McCormack were scheduled for the afternoon of the same day.
According to the Associated Press, Democrats had intended to speak with all four about White House operations before and after Trump allegedly held a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy and asked him to pursue investigations into Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election as well as presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family.
The newswire reported Eisenberg was instrumental in discussions about how to handle a White House memo, which recounted the Trump phone call with Ukraine that is central to the inquiry.
McCormack is a former chief of staff to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who allegedly led a U.S. delegation to Ukraine for Zelenskiy’s inauguration back in May 2019. Ellis, on the other hand, is Eisenberg’s deputy and a former Republican aide to the House intelligence panel.
Three committees leading the impeachment probe informed Ellis and Blair of the subpoenas in writing to their lawyers on Nov. 4. Heads of the three committees said in the letters they had been informed by lawyers their clients would not appear because a White House lawyer could not be present—a fact Trump and Republicans in Congress have used to try to denounce the Democrats’ impeachment process as a “sham.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and acting House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney fired back by trying to discredit the lawyers’ argument by saying it has no merit and is the “latest in a long line of baseless procedural challenges to the House of Representatives’ authority to fulfil one of its most solemn responsibilities under the Constitution.”
Despite the setback and House being on recess the probe appears to be continuing with several more witnesses scheduled to testify before the end of the week. The next witnesses include Perry and former National Security Adviser John Bolton. The Associated Press could not confirm whether the pair would actually show up.