In one of the more absurd developments yet in the spiraling impeachment probe that’s now engulfed nearly everyone in Donald Trump’s political orbit, Mick Mulvaney is effectively suing the president.
Mulvaney has emerged as one of the key figures in the Ukraine affair, and House investigators want to hear from him. The acting chief of staff was at the center of the decision to hold up some $400 million in military aid and was also instrumental in handing Ukraine policy to Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker and Rick Perry (the “three amigos”, as they came to call themselves).
Mick made things immeasurably worse for himself during an October 17 press conference when he inadvertently admitted to a quid pro quo, then told reporters to “get over it”.
Now, instead of simply citing Trump’s “it’s an illegitimate witch hunt” excuse on the way to stonewalling Congress, Mick is attempting to join a lawsuit filed by John Bolton’s former deputy Charles Kupperman, who has asked a federal judge to determine which takes precedence: the congressional subpoena or Trump’s order not to comply with the probe. The defendants named in the suit are congressional leaders and “the Honorable Donald J. Trump”.
“[Mulvaney’s] lawyers tried to finesse that by saying in the body of their motion that the defendants they really wanted to sue were the congressional leaders, but their own motion still listed Mr. Trump at the top as a defendant because that is the suit they sought to join”, the New York Times writes (and you can almost hear Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman chuckling).
As you can probably imagine, Bolton is more than a little surprised. House investigators want to hear from him too (for a number of reasons), and people close to the former national security advisor told the Washington Post last week that he would be willing to speak to Congress if the judge in the case rules in favor of lawmakers.
“People close to Bolton and Kupperman said the two were flabbergasted by Mulvaney’s surprise request to join the lawsuit because they and others on the national security team considered Mulvaney a critical player in the effort to get the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations into Trump’s political opponents”, WaPo wrote, in a separate piece out Sunday.
Bolton, you’ll recall, characterized the scheme orchestrated by Sondland and Mulvaney as a “drug deal”, and called Rudy Giuliani “a hand grenade”, according to testimony from his aide Fiona Hill (see here and here).
Of course, there are rumors that Trump isn’t pleased with Mulvaney, so it’s possible Mick is looking for a way out of the situation. If he can cite a court ruling, it would give him an excuse to defy Trump and comply with Congress, which he probably knows is the only way to avoid going down with the ship. Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff, told the Times that he couldn’t remember any instance of a chief of staff deciding to go to court instead of just taking direction from the president.
Mulvaney’s lawyers showed up in court Friday morning just hours after he failed to appear for a deposition. He had been subpoenaed the previous evening.
Bolton is not a plaintiff in the suit filed by Kupperman, but will likely view the ruling as a determination on whether or not he too should testify. John has a $2 million book deal waiting on him, so one assumes he’d like to get this out of the way.
Then again, this whole thing could be a stall tactic. At the very least, it’s possible that’s the way Mulvaney sees it. After all, if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, it could be months before the issue is decided, likely getting Mick off the hook unless House Democrats plan to wait that long before moving in for the (figurative) kill.
Although there will invariably be all manner of spin from Mulvaney’s attorneys and also from the White House when it comes to explaining this latest wrinkle, Democrat Gerald Connolly, who serves on two of the committees conducting the inquiry, summed up Mick’s move to join the suit quite nicely in remarks to the Times. “There’s no honor among thieves”, he said.