Oversight chair wants to hold ex-White House official in contempt

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Tuesday blasted the White House for blocking former security clearance official Carl Kline from testifying before his panel and signaled he would seek a vote to hold Kline in contempt of Congress.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Cummings accused the White House and Kline of standing in “open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena,” hours after Kline’s attorney Robert Driscoll said he would not appear for a deposition scheduled for the same day, complying with a request from the White House.

{mosads}“I intend to consult with House Counsel and Committee Members about scheduling a vote on contempt,” Cummings said Tuesday. “I hope that Mr. Kline, in close consultation with his personal attorney, will carefully review his legal obligations, reconsider his refusal to appear, and begin cooperating with the Committee’s investigation.”

Michael Purpura, deputy counsel to President Trump, wrote to Cummings in a letter sent Monday that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had told Kline, the former White House personnel security director, not to appear before the Oversight Committee because the panel was not allowing a representative of the White House to attend his deposition “in order to preserve and protect Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

Driscoll wrote separately to the committee that his client, who currently works at the Defense Department, would follow the White House’s instructions. 

“With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instruction of the one that employs him. I hope you can appreciate the situation we are in,” Driscoll wrote. “This decision is not made lightly and does not come from any ill will or deliberate defiance on my part or that of my client. We wished to answer the legitimate legislative questions of this committee, but warned of an impending conflict.”

Driscoll told The Hill in a statement later Tuesday that he and Kline take both Cummings’s concerns and the instructions from the White House seriously.

“My client and I take seriously the concerns of the Committee and the Chair. We also take seriously the direction of the White House not to attend today’s hearing and the opinion, expressed by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, about the validity of the Committee’s subpoenas given the restrictions placed by the Committee,” Driscoll said. “Chairman Cummings is zealously playing the role he should in our constitutional system and we bear no ill will towards him. We will continue to review the proceedings and make the best judgments we can.”

The committee voted along party lines in early April to subpoena Kline as part of its sprawling probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process.

The vote came one day after Cummings revealed that a career White House official who worked under Kline had told committee staff of alleged failures within the Trump administration’s security clearance process. The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, also told the committee that Kline retaliated against her for raising national security concerns about the clearance process.

Kline’s attorney said earlier this month he was prepared to testify on April 23, but warned the panel that there could be conflicts during his testimony because it would be up to the White House to decide whether certain matters are subject to executive privilege.

The White House has argued that the committee is overstepping its legitimate oversight authorities with the investigation into security clearances that Cummings launched in January. White House officials have offered to discuss the general security clearance processes and procedures, while refusing to provide information about background investigations for specific individuals.

Cummings has accused the White House of thwarting his probe by refusing to produce documents or allow witnesses to testify, describing the administration’s position as “untenable” and inconsistent with past practice in a statement Tuesday.

“The White House and Mr. Kline now stand in open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena with no assertion of any privilege of any kind by President Trump,” Cummings said Tuesday. “Based on these actions, it appears that the President believes that the Constitution does not apply to his White House, that he may order officials at will to violate their legal obligations, and that he may obstruct attempts by Congress to conduct oversight.”

In an earlier letter sent to Cummings on April 18, Purpura argued that the White House would need to participate in the deposition to ensure that the questions are limited to the proper scope and that any disclosure of details covered by executive privilege is “properly authorized.” Purpura also argued that the White House would need to ensure that Kline isn’t pressured by lawmakers to reveal information covered by executive privilege. 

Updated at 3:08 p.m.

Tags Congressional oversight Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Mick Mulvaney

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