Ex-Bolton aide's lawsuit against Congress and White House dismissed

Access to the comments Comments
By Tom Winter and Dareh Gregorian  with NBC News Politics
Image: Charles Kupperman
Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman stands outside the White House on May 28, 2019.   -  Copyright  Embassy of Poland US

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the former deputy to ex-national security adviser John Bolton that sought to answer whether the White House could block him from testifying before Congress.

Charles Kuppermanfiled suitafter he was subpoenaed to testify in the House impeachment inquiry in late October, and the White House ordered him not to cooperate. Kupperman wanted direction from the court on which of the co-equal branches of government he should listen to.

He didn't get his answer. In a ruling Monday, Judge Richard Leon agreed with lawyers from the House of Representatives that the question was moot because the House withdrew its subpoena in November. House lawyers had also assured the judge they wouldn't hold Kupperman in contempt or refer him for prosecution.

Attorneys for the House backed away from the fight because they were concerned the issue would get tied up in alengthy court battle, an Intelligence Committee official told NBC News at the time.

If the House had lost the case, it could have further hampered efforts to get Trump administration witnesses to testify. The White House had directed administration officials not to cooperate with the House probe.

Had the court sided with the House, however, it could have had major benefits for the impeachment probe. Bolton, a central figure in the inquiry who pushed back against President Donald Trump's freeze on Ukraine aid, had said he would be bound by whatever the courts decided in Kupperman's case.

He and Kupperman were both represented by the same lawyer, Charles Cooper, who told attorneys for the House that Bolton "was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far."

Politics

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to join Kupperman's suit, but changed his mind after lawyers for Kupperman and the House Intelligence Committee, which led the inquiry, urged the judge not to allow that to happen.

In his ruling, Leon noted that the issue might arise again.

"Have no doubt though, should the winds of political fortune shift and the House were to reissue a subpoena to Dr. Kupperman, he will face the same conflicting directives that precipitated this suit," the judge wrote. "If so, he will undoubtedly be right back before this court seeking a solution to a constitutional dilemma that has longstanding political consequences: balancing Congress's well-established power to investigate with a president's need to have a small group of national security advisors who have some form of immunity from compelled congressional testimony."