Democrats threaten contempt after White House official refuses to testify

House Democrats are threatening to charge a key witness in their impeachment investigation with contempt after he defied a subpoena and failed to show up at the Capitol Monday morning.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the lawsuit filed by Charles Kupperman, a deputy to former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump envoy says US ready to talk to North Korea but rebukes Pyongyang counterpart Why Trump can't make up his mind on China The benefits of American disinterest in world affairs MORE, questioning his obligation to appear before Congress "has no basis in law" since Kupperman is now a private citizen. 

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Schiff said Democrats will forge ahead with their impeachment investigation, vowing not to let the White House bog their investigation down in the courts. 

"This is deeply regrettable. He was compelled to appear by a lawful congressional subpoena," Schiff told reporters. "Witnesses like Dr. Kupperman need to do their duty and show up."

"A private citizen cannot sue the Congress to try to avoid coming in when they're served with a lawful subpoena. And we expect that the court will make short shrift of that argument. But nonetheless we move forward."

Schiff, joined by the Democratic chairs of the House Oversight and Reform and House Foreign Affairs committees, had threatened in a letter Saturday that if Kupperman did not appear on Monday, they might hold him in contempt.

On Monday, the Intelligence chairman stopped short of saying Democrats would take that step, but left it on the table as a possible recourse.

“Dr. Kupperman had testimony we believe would corroborate the allegations of misconduct that other witnesses have made,” Schiff said. “But we move forward, and we will obviously consider — as we inform Dr. Kupperman's counsel — his failure to appear as evidence that may warrant the contempt proceeding against him.”

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kupperman was on the July 25 phone call between President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump pressed Zelensky to launch an anti-corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream Mexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump MORE, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. 

A government whistleblower has charged that Trump also threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine if Zelensky failed to comply. The episode stands at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, launched by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSupreme Court expands religious rights with trio of rulings Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits Democrats see victory in Trump culture war MORE (D-Calif.) almost five weeks ago, as investigators examine whether Trump sought to enlist a foreign power for help with his reelection. 

Democrats view Kupperman as a key witness, given his proximity to the call, and suspect the White House has blocked his testimony because it might undermine Trump’s defense. 

"If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would want him to come and testify,” Schiff said. “They plainly don't." 

Republicans, meanwhile, had no qualms with the lawsuit, and they continued to trumpet claims that none of the witnesses interviewed as part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry have implicated the president in a crime during their closed-door testimonies.

“Every time we hear from a witness, every single witness who talked to the president, each and every time they have said he has done nothing wrong,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Miami pauses reopenings as COVID-19 infections rise, schools nationally plot return Overnight Health Care: Trump downplaying of COVID-19 sparks new criticism of response Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response MORE (R-N.C.), a prominent Trump ally in the House. “He is innocent of any charges.”

Meadows also said Democrats have heard from witnesses who received their information secondhand — a matter Democrats believe they would be able to rectify if they are able to hear from Trump officials like Kupperman and Bolton.

Nevertheless, Kupperman’s refusal is likely to create a hiccup for Democrats, who are seeking to draw in witnesses like Kupperman and Bolton — who are said to share the same lawyer — as they seek to get corroboration from individuals who served closely to the commander in chief.

But Democrats publicly refused to describe this as a blow, saying they will push ahead regardless.

“The investigation is overwhelmingly successful until this point. We have tremendous momentum and we are getting the information we need,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote MORE (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer who serves on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“Let’s hope it is like a hiccup and a cup of water will make it go away.”