House Democrats plan formal vote on impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House will take a vote this week to formalize Democrats' impeachment inquiry amid President Donald Trump's criticism that the probe is "illegitimate." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the step is being taken "to eliminate any doubt" about the process as the administration tries to block witnesses and withhold documents.

In a letter to colleagues on Monday, Pelosi said the resolution will "affirm the ongoing, existing investigation" and lay out procedures for open hearings and the next steps going forward. She dismissed the White House's argument that impeachment isn't happening without a formal vote, saying that "of course, this argument has no merit."

The Constitution doesn't require a vote to begin impeachment. But Trump and his Republican colleagues have cited the lack of one to say that the probe is not real. Trump used that argument in a lengthy letter to the House earlier this month saying that he wouldn't cooperate.

Many government officials have cooperated with the inquiry despite Trump's orders. But Pelosi's letter comes as a national security official defied a House subpoena Monday, escalating the standoff between Congress and the White House over who will testify.

Charles Kupperman, who was a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, failed to show up for a scheduled closed-door deposition after filing a lawsuit asking a federal court in Washington to rule on whether he was legally required to appear. In a statement, Kupperman said he was awaiting "judicial clarity."

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: File photo dated 08 May, 1996 shows US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaking during a Capitol Hill press conference in Washington, DC. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (R, D-MO) is expected to announce 07 November, 2002 that he will not seek another term after the Republican opponents took both the House of Representatives and the Senate in mid-term elections 05 November. One of two Democrats vying to fill the spot is is Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi; the other is chairman of the Democratic caucus Martin Frost (D, TX). (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: US President Bill Clinton signs the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act Amendments of 1996 20 May at the White House in Washington DC. Standing behind Clinton are (L-R) Jeanne White, mother of Ryan, White House Aide Patsy Fleming, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), Rep. Henry Waxman(D-CA), Rep. Nancy Pelosi(D-CA). (Photo credit should read CHUCK KENNEDY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 25: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS: Ranking member Nancy Pelosi ,D-Calif., during the House Appropriations,Foreign Operations subcommittee markup of FY 98 foreign operations appropriations. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
SLUG:NA/BAILOUT DATE:9/26/08 WASHINGTON, DC CREDIT: DOMINIC BRACCO II From left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) speak during a press conference about legislation for a bailout of the financial crisis on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26, 2008. (Photo by Dominic Bracco Ii/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush is applauded by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) and Vice President Dick Cheney (L) as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington 23 January 2007. AFP PHOTO/Larry Downing/Pool (Photo credit should read LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10: WHIP RACE--Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, victor in the Democratic Whip race, talks to reporters and celebrates with supporting members after the Democratic caucus elected her to replace outgoing Whip David E. Bonior, D-Mich., who is running for governor of Michigan. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA,L) newly elected Democratic Minority Leader raises her hand with outgoing leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) 14 November, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Pelosi's election marks the first time in the history of the US Congress that a woman will lead her party. AFP PHOTO MIKE THEILER (Photo credit should read MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 26: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the California delegate breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2004. (Photo by Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 02: STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., talk before President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Harry Belafonte, Jessie Jackson and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (Photo by Moses Robinson/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 04: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addresses the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center June 4, 2008 in Washington, DC. Democratic U.S. presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) are scheduled to speak to the same event. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol May 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. Pelosi turned the news conference into an opportunity to list what she and the Democratic House leadership considered their successes of the 111th Congress' first session. She took a handful of questions about her upcomming trip to China and her statements about the CIA. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 23: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, right, and Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, shakes hands while addressing the media before a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 23, 2009. Maliki pledged to mend sectarian divisions and fight corruption as he urged the international community to continue providing support to his nation. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- Jan. 05: House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, accepts the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the 112th Congress convenes at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) works with staff before a vote on the House floor during a typically busy day on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES â DECEMBER 1: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly on camera news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 22: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi attends the Public Counsel's 2012 William O. Douglas Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05: House Minority Leader Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) waves as she takes the stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media as female House Democrats gather around during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Leader Pelosi said that she has decided continue to lead the House Democrats and does not wish to retire at this time. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, bottom center, stands for a photograph with Democratic women of the House on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. 65 House Democratic women are part of the 114th Congress, the largest number of women in a party Caucus in the history of the Congress of the United States. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, Apple's SVP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, CEO of Apple Tim Cook, music producer Jimmy Iovine and Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi attend the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Martin Bandier at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leave a meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center where Biden briefed members on the nuclear deal with Iran, July 15, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduces presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to the press for her on the Iran nuclear deal following her meeting with House Democrats during their weekly caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works with staff in her House Leadership office during a typically hectic legislative day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Wednesday May 18, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) walks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after attending a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on June 22, 2016 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), chats with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), during a memorial service to honor the late Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), 49, who died from pancreatic cancer last July, at the US Capitol September 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) drive nails into a piece of lumber at the 'First Nail Ceremony' September 21, 2016 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The ceremony marked the official launch of construction on the Inaugural platform where the next President of the United States will take the oath of office on Friday, January 20, 2017. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol September 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on a range of topics, including congressional negotiations on a new continuing resolution. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, following a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. During their closed-door meeting, Pelosi expressed strong concerns about Trump's decision to name former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist, and asked him to reconsider the appointment. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Bloomberg
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House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Kupperman's suit has "no basis in law" and speculated that the White House didn't want him to testify because his testimony could be incriminating. Democrats are investigating Trump's pressure on the Ukrainian government to pursue politically motivated investigations as the administration was also withholding military aid to the country.

"If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would've wanted him to come and testify," Schiff told reporters. "They plainly don't."

Schiff said the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry will move forward, with or without testimony from Kupperman and other witnesses. Democrats have indicated that they are likely to use no-show witnesses to write an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice, rather than launching potentially lengthy court battles to obtain testimony.

"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 will move forward," Schiff said.

Two current National Security Council staff members, Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison, are scheduled to appear this week and would be the first White House employees to testify in the inquiry.

Morrison's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said in an email Monday that if Morrison is subpoenaed, he will appear.

The argument advanced by Kupperman's lawyers turns on his status as a close adviser to the president and may not be available for other administration officials who are lower down the executive branch organization chart or who did not have regular contact with Trump.

Kupperman, his lawyers say, met with and advised Trump on a regular basis and therefore cannot be compelled to testify.

Schiff said over the weekend that he wants Bolton to testify, though that has not yet been scheduled. He told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that Bolton, who, according to other witnesses, had concerns about the Ukraine policy, "has very relevant information." But he predicted that the White House, which has vowed to obstruct the investigation, would fight a Bolton appearance.

After hearing from a series of State Department officials, the three committees leading the impeachment investigation are turning their focus to the White House. Lawmakers say they are hoping to get more answers about what aides close to Trump knew about his orders on Ukraine policy.

"They're in the White House, so they're much closer to where the policymaking supposedly was supposed to happen with regard to the Ukraine, and they can really shine a light on whether it was happening properly or not," said Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Several of the State Department officials have already told lawmakers of their concerns as Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani took charge of Ukrainian policy and as Trump pushed out the U.S. ambassador there.

William Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week that he was told aid to the country would be withheld until the country conducted investigations into Trump's potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and his family and into Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In Kupperman's lawsuit, he asked a judge to decide whether he should accede to House demands for his testimony or assert "immunity from congressional process" as directed by Trump. He said he "cannot satisfy the competing demands of both the legislative and executive branches," and without the court's help, he said, he would have to make the decision himself — one that could "inflict grave constitutional injury" on either Congress or the presidency.

"Given the issue of separation of powers in this matter, it would be reasonable and appropriate to expect that all parties would want judicial clarity," Kupperman said in a statement.

The court had yet to rule by Monday morning, and his lawyer said in a letter that he was waiting for a judge to step in before committing to testify.

The three chairmen of the House committees overseeing the inquiry told Kupperman's lawyers in a letter over the weekend that the suit was without merit and appeared to be coordinated with the White House. They called it "an obvious and desperate tactic by the President to delay and obstruct the lawful constitutional functions of Congress and conceal evidence about his conduct from the impeachment inquiry."

Kupperman's attorney, Charles Cooper, wrote in a letter that it was not his client who was challenging Congress' constitutional claims.

"It is President Trump, and every president before him for at least the last half century, who have asserted testimonial immunity to their closest confidential advisers," Cooper wrote. "If your clients' position on the merits of this issue is correct, it will prevail in court, and Dr. Kupperman, I assure you again, will comply with the court's judgment."

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