White House refuses House Democrats' request for security clearance documents

The White House on Wednesday rejected a request for documents from the House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of its probe into the handling of security clearances.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a nine-page letter to the committee that it was "harassing and seeking to punish political opponents" and argued that lawmakers' request showed "a total disregard for individual privacy."

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The rejection of the request, issued April 1 by committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBlack lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump's impeachment plea to Republicans Diplomat who raised Ukraine concerns to testify in Trump impeachment probe MORE (D-Md.), is the latest escalation of the White House's fight against Democratic investigations.

In the letter, first obtained by CNN, Cipollone asserted that the committee's request falls outside the realm of "legitimate Congressional requests."

“Its self-described effort to ‘investigat[e]’ the background files of ‘specific individuals’ is improper, has no valid legislative purpose, and clearly is a mere pretext to harass and intimidate dedicated public servants,” Cipollone wrote.

He added that the Trump administration’s view on the matter is in line with precedent on protecting executive branch information.

The Oversight and Reform Committee is conducting an investigation into the White House's handling of security clearances for administration officials. A whistleblower told the panel the White House intervened to give high-level clearances to 25 people who had previously been denied them.

Cummings called the White House letter “the latest example of the President’s widespread and growing obstruction of Congress.” He noted that the committee has previously obtained documents related to security clearances for members of the Trump administration, and that past administrations had allowed officials to testify on the subject.

“The American people do not want a king in the White House—they want a President who adheres to the Constitution, who follows the law, and who recognizes Congress’ legitimate role as a check and balance on the Executive Branch,” Cummings said in a statement.

Cummings said committee members will meet to discuss next steps following Cipollone’s letter.

“The lengths to which President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE and his aides are going to keep this information from Congress raise grave concerns about what they are trying to hide—and why,” the chairman said.

The White House had previously criticized the probe, with press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersBill Press: Mulvaney proves need for daily briefings White House correspondent April Ryan to moderate fundraising event for Buttigieg White House press secretary defends lack of daily briefings: Trump 'is the most accessible president in history' MORE Sanders calling it "dangerous” and “shameful."

The administration had initially blocked former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline from testifying before the committee, prompting threats that Cummings could hold him in contempt and sparking discussion among Democrats about how to handle uncooperative witnesses.

In an apparent de-escalation of tensions, Cummings said in a statement over the weekend that Kline would appear voluntarily for an interview on Wednesday.

President Trump last week vowed to fight "all the subpoenas" from Democrats, arguing that his cooperation with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was sufficient.

"Look, these aren't impartial people," he said. "The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They're not going to win with the people that I see, and they're not going to win against me."

"The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense," he added.

House Democrats have launched a flurry of probes into the administration, focused on potential abuse of power, the president's financial dealings and security clearances, among other topics.

– Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:41 p.m.