As the House and Senate continue their struggle over the coming Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, a federal judge in Washington issued an opinion that was largely lost in the crush of New Year’s stories. The opinion could loom large in the trial, however, and one line in particular may be repeated like a mantra by the Trump defense team: “The House clearly has no intention of pursuing” the witness.
The witness was Charles Kupperman, a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton. Other than Bolton himself, Kupperman is one of the officials most likely to have direct knowledge of an alleged quid pro quo involving aid to Ukraine. After subpoenaing him in October, the House mysteriously withdrew its subpoena before the court could rule on compelling his testimony. It also decided not to subpoena Bolton and other key witnesses. Judge Richard Leon dismissed the case just before New Year’s Eve with a hint of frustration, if not bewilderment, that the House did not seem interested in hearing from a possible eyewitness. Historically, that lack of interest in not just witnesses but a triable case will remain one of the most baffling blunders of this impeachment.
When I testified in the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing, I referenced the Kupperman case in my criticism of Democratic leaders’ pledge to impeach Trump by Christmas despite a clearly incomplete, insufficient record. While I opposed a number of proposed articles of impeachment that were subsequently dropped by the committee, I said Trump could be legitimately impeached on abuse of power and obstruction of justice if the House could establish such violations. The House, however, refused to wait just a couple of months to build a much stronger case for Trump’s removal. In its mad rush to impeachment, the House could not have made it easier for the White House.