MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right. The House is going to vote on Thursday to formalize the impeachment inquiry. This comes as investigators have been stymied in their push to question certain witnesses. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me from the White House. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Hi. What's this move mean?
LIASSON: Well, it means, as Speaker Pelosi said, it's going to establish a procedure for open hearings in public, disclosure of the transcripts of the depositions. So symbolically it's a big deal, but also legally it's a big deal because Congress is at the height of its powers in courtrooms when it has a legitimate, authorized impeachment investigation.
This takes away a Republican talking point that the House hearings are illegitimate, puts some more pressure on Republicans in the White House. At least one Republican close to the White House said to me it puts the Republicans in a box because now the hearings - the impeachment inquiry is not irregular anymore. The White House did respond today, saying they want to look at the actual text of Pelosi's statement but that Pelosi's finally admitting that the Democrats had been conducting enough unauthorized impeachment proceedings.
KELLY: I mentioned, Mara, certain witnesses who the House has wanted to hear from and they have not testified, among them Charles Kupperman, who was a top official on Trump's National Security Council. He was supposed to be there today. He was a no-show, which did not go over well with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That is Democrat Adam Schiff.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ADAM SCHIFF: We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts, so we press forward.
KELLY: Mara, what's going on with this? Who is Charles Kupperman? Why didn't he show up today?
LIASSON: Charles Kupperman was the deputy to Trump's former National Security Adviser John Bolton. He left the White House about 10 days after Bolton did, and Kupperman may be able to corroborate what we learned from others' testimony about what John Bolton did and said when he learned about this shadow foreign policy, this deal to make Ukrainian military aid contingent on a public announcement by the Ukrainian president that he was opening an investigation into the Bidens. But the most important thing is that Kupperman has filed a lawsuit against both the committees and President Trump. His lawyer says Kupperman...
KELLY: He's suing Congress and President Trump.
LIASSON: He has described himself as being caught in the middle of a, quote, "momentous constitutional dispute." What's happening here is the White House has claimed broad constitutional powers. They call it absolute testimonial immunity. They have ordered Kupperman not to testify. They say he is covered by this immunity. This is something that the courts have never finally resolved.
Back in 2008, the same district court where Kupperman filed this suit did rule that Harriet Miers, former White House counsel for George Bush, was not covered by this absolute immunity. But the White House is now arguing that Kupperman is a senior enough official - higher than the White House counsel - that he is, quote, "an immediate adviser to the president," and he should be covered by the same kind of immunity that the president is. And presumably, if the House ever issued a subpoena to John Bolton, that John Bolton would also be covered by the same immunity.
KELLY: OK, but put - yeah.
LIASSON: So he is asking the courts to resolve this.
KELLY: Help me understand this, though, Mara, because other former senior White House officials have testified. There was that big testimony from Fiona Hill...
KELLY: ...Who was in charge of Russia and Ukraine for the National Security Council. Why is her case...
KELLY: ...Any different from Kupperman?
LIASSON: ...According to the White House, she is not a high enough official. They're saying Kupperman is. Potentially, Bolton would be, but Fiona Hill and those State Department diplomats were not ordered not to testify under this immunity argument. They were merely told not to.
KELLY: And real quick, Mara, are we ever going to hear from John Bolton?
LIASSON: If the courts rule - if they issue him a subpoena and the courts rule that the subpoena is legitimate and this broad absolute testimonial immunity does not apply to him, yes, he would testify.
KELLY: That is Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent, updating us there from the White House. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.