Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, has asked to join a lawsuit that seeks a ruling on whether senior advisers to Donald Trump must testify in the impeachment inquiry.
House Republicans, meanwhile, have said Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who triggered the inquiry should be called to testify in public hearings set to begin next week.
Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry are expected to reject that request.
Mulvaney made his move late on Friday night, the same day he became the latest senior White House aide not to comply with a subpoena to appear before Democrat-led House committees receiving testimony in private.
The lawsuit was filed in October by Charles Kupperman, former deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton.
House Democrats have not served a subpoena to Bolton, whose lawyer said on Friday he had information about “many relevant meetings and conversations”. Bolton has warned he will seek legal recourse if a subpoena is sent. In a game of legal chess, Kupperman’s subpoena has been withdrawn.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone has claimed senior aides to the president do not have to comply with impeachment inquiry subpoenas. That claim is fiercely contested. But career officials from the National Security Council and state department have testified in private.
Transcripts released this week have painted a damning picture of attempts to persuade Ukraine to investigate political rivals of the president, potentially in return for an unfreezing of nearly $400m in military aid and a White House meeting with Trump.
Mulvaney found himself in the crosshairs after admitting last month that aid was held up and telling reporters to “get over it” – an admission he then sought to retract.
This week, transcripts of testimony by White House aides linked Mulvaney to offers of a Trump meeting for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, if he agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter and a conspiracy theory which says Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 US election.
In a filing quoted by the Washington Post, Mulvaney’s lawyers said the issue of whether senior aides should testify “go[es] to the heart of our representative government and its promise to secure individual liberty by dividing the awesome power of government amongst itself”.
“Mr Mulvaney, like Mr Kupperman, finds himself caught in that division, trapped between the commands of two of its co-equal branches – with one of those branches threatening him with contempt. He turns to this court for aid.”
When Kupperman’s suit was filed, many observers said it was merely a delaying tactic. Critics of Cipollone’s position say it disregards the oversight role of Congress as set out in the constitution.
Speaking to the Guardian on Friday, Frank O Bowman III, author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump and a professor at the University of Missouri school of law, said the White House “gag rule” on senior advisers testifying was “completely abnormal”.
Bowman said: “Inasmuch as the no-shows are in response to presidential orders or strong admonitions, they amount to obstruction of the House’s constitutional impeachment function and are therefore a free-standing ground for impeachment.”
The impeachment inquiry centres on a 25 July phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to “do us a favour”.
The call and concerns over it became known when an intelligence services whistleblower filed an anonymous report. Trump and allies such as the Kentucky senator Rand Paul have led Republican pressure for the media to name the whistleblower, contrary to federal law.
On Saturday, in a letter to House intelligence chair Adam Schiff, ranking Republican Devin Nunes called for the whistleblower to testify and claimed: “Americans see through this sham impeachment process.”
Other individuals Nunes said should testify included Devon Archer, an associate of Hunter Biden; former Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa; and Nellie Ohr, a “former contractor for opposition research firm Fusion GPS”, which commissioned the famous Steele dossier on links between Trump and Russia.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that two Ukrainian Americans entangled in the impeachment inquiry pushed previous Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to investigate the Bidens and the conspiracy theory regarding 2016.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman worked with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor commonly described as Trump’s personal attorney, on approaches to Ukraine. Parnas and Fruman have been charged with campaign finance offences. Giuliani has defied congressional demands for relevant documentation.
According to released testimony, Giuliani’s role in apparent extra-governmental foreign policy caused alarm among national security staffers.
According to Hill, Bolton also said he was “not part of whatever drug deal [EU ambassador Gordon] Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up”.
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