Judge fast-tracks case over former White House official's refusal to testify in impeachment inquiry

A federal judge on Thursday fast-tracked a case involving a key impeachment witness caught between House Democrats seeking to compel his testimony and a White House order to defy a congressional subpoena.  

Judge Richard Leon, a George W. Bush appointee to the Federal District Court in D.C., called the legal dispute over the testimony of Charles Kupperman, a former deputy to former National Security Advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Overnight Defense: Families sue over safety hazards at Army base | Lawmakers, NBA's Enes Kanter speak out ahead of Erdoğan visit | Washington braces for public impeachment hearings Bolton suggests Trump's Turkey policy motivated by personal, financial interest: NBC MORE, a “matter of great public interest and a matter of great urgency for the country.”

Kupperman was on the July 25 phone call between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

The judge set a Dec. 10 date for oral arguments.

An attorney for Kupperman described the former aide as being caught in a “classic Catch-22,” facing irreconcilable demands from government branches caught in a potentially landmark legal battle over the separation of powers. Kupperman has “no dog in the fight,” his lawyer added, as he petitions the court for a speedy resolution to an inter-branch dispute.

Trump has argued that his subordinates have “absolute immunity” from complying with congressional subpoena stemming from House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, an argument that Democrats say is legally groundless.  

The Kupperman hearing unfolded at the same time that a nearly identical dispute between lawyers representing the House Democrats and the White House played out in the same federal courthouse over the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn.

In Kupperman’s case, counsel for both Democrats and the White House said they intend to seek a motion asking the judge to toss the case. Leon gave counsel for the government parties until Nov. 14 to filing briefings, and set a deadline for Kupperman roughly two weeks later.

Leon chafed when an attorney for the Justice Department, which represents Trump in the matter, asked for more time to reply to Kupperman’s filing because it conflicted with the holiday calendar. 

“When it's a matter of this consequence to this country,” Leon said, “you roll up your sleeves and get the job done."