The Trump White House’s legal strategy to keep top officials from testifying in impeachment proceedings is now focused on exploiting the slow pace of the legal system.
The goal of the run-out-the-clock approach is to tie up in courts the fight over whether top officials from the National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget and White House chief of staff’s office can appear before Congress — all while asserting expansive powers for the office of the president.
Court battles could last months, bringing the stand-off between Congress and the White House closer to the 2020 primary races. Democrats have long said they want to move quickly on the impeachment inquiry and keep it narrowly focused, with House aides tentatively hoping to wrap up the inquiry before Christmas.
“It’s a delay strategy,” said a Republican close to the White House, who argued the approach forces Democrats to impeach Trump on procedural grounds of obstructing the investigation instead of uncovering potentially more startling evidence.
If successful, the move will force Democrats to move ahead without hearing from top aides close to President Donald Trump including former national security adviser John Bolton, the budget office officials who delayed sending aid to Ukraine or the national security lawyer who chose to place the July 25 transcript call on a separate, highly classified server. The White House has claimed none of these people can testify under executive privilege, which is meant to protect conversations between the president and his top advisers.
The strategy of relying on a court’s timeline is already buying the administration more than a month: A U.S. District Court judge is not holding a hearing about whether former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman must testify until Dec. 10, cutting into the Democrats’ ambitious timeframe.