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Top lawyer declines to testify in impeachment inquiry
[WASHINGTON] The White House's top national security lawyer declined to appear for a scheduled deposition Monday morning, saying he would wait to hear what a federal judge ruled on whether President Donald Trump's closest advisers have to answer questions from congressional investigators.
The lawyer, John Eisenberg, played a central role in dealing with the fallout at the White House from a July call between Mr Trump and the Ukrainian president, in which Mr Trump asked the Ukrainians to conduct investigations that could benefit him politically.
The committee subpoenaed Mr Eisenberg to appear Monday for questioning, but the White House informed Mr Eisenberg's lawyer in recent days that Mr Trump would block his testimony by invoking "constitutional immunity," a sweeping form of executive privilege it has been claiming for officials who have the closest interactions with the president.
Mr Eisenberg's decision heightens the importance of an unusual lawsuit filed by Trump's former deputy national security adviser, Charles Kupperman, who faced the same situation as Mr Eisenberg: a subpoena from the House and an instruction from Mr Trump not to comply with it.
Last month, Mr Kupperman sued, asking a judge to determine whether he had to testify. Oral arguments could be heard in that case Dec 10.
"Mr. Eisenberg, as a lawyer and officer of the court, will a abide by whatever final decision the federal judiciary reaches on the dispute between the executive and Congress," said William Burck, a lawyer for Eisenberg.
The suit will have implications that go beyond Mr Kupperman and Mr Eisenberg. Mr Kupperman's lawyer, Charles Cooper, also represents another highly sought-after witness, the former national security adviser, John Bolton.
If House investigators subpoena Mr Bolton, Mr Cooper is likely to also ask a judge to determine whether he has to testify.
As the White House's top national security lawyer, Mr Eisenberg dealt directly with complaints from White House officials after Trump's call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine.
Witnesses have told House investigators that it was Mr Eisenberg's decision to store a transcript of the call on a special network used for the government's most sensitive national security secrets.
At least one witness has said she told Mr Eisenberg that one of Trump's political appointees could be a counterintelligence risk, but Mr Eisenberg declined to inform the Justice Department of the concerns.