Cummings accuses White House of stonewalling security clearance probe
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is demanding that President Trump’s White House comply with an ongoing investigation into the security clearance process, accusing the White House of stonewalling congressional requests for documents and transcribed interviews.
Cummings also raised concerns Friday about the actions by Trump and others in the White House in reaction to a New York Times report that Trump ordered then-chief of staff John Kelly to grant his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance despite issues raised by the intelligence community and then-White House lawyer Donald McGahn.
“If true, these new reports raise grave questions about what derogatory information career officials obtained about Mr. Kushner to recommend denying him access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets, why President Trump concealed his role in overruling that recommendation, why General Kelly and Mr. McGahn both felt compelled to document these actions, and why your office is continuing to withhold key documents and witnesses from this Committee,” Cummings wrote in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Friday.
“I am now writing a final time to request your voluntary cooperation with this investigation. I ask that you begin producing all responsive documents immediately, and I request that you begin scheduling transcribed interviews with each witness identified by the Committee,” Cummings wrote, giving Cipollone until March 4 to comply with his request.
Cummings first announced the security clearance investigation on Jan. 23 and on the same day sent a letter to Cipollone outlining the investigation and requesting a trove of documents as well as transcribed interviews with staff working in the White House’s personnel security office.
Cummings asked the White House to produce the documents by Feb. 6 and begin scheduled the interviews by Feb. 11. However, on Friday, Cummings said that none of the requests had been fulfilled.
Cummings also released written correspondence with the White House since the probe’s announcement, including a Feb. 25 letter in which Cipollone wrote that he was “committed to accommodating legitimate requests for information” but argued that there are “limits” on the authority Congress has to conduct oversight of decisions regarding security clearances within the executive office of the president.
Cipollone wrote that an earlier letter from the Democrat “overstates the Committee’s jurisdiction over the White House security clearance process and the historical oversight practices in this area.”
In his letter Friday, Cummings said the White House has “stalled, equivocated, and failed to produce a single document or witness to the Committee.”
“The White House has refused to commit to providing any information regarding the security clearance of any specific White House official, and the president has asserted no constitutional privilege to withhold information from Congress,” Cummings wrote.
The letter followed the explosive Times report that Trump ordered Kelly to grant Kushner, one of his senior advisers, a top-secret security clearance in May despite concerns raised by the CIA and McGahn. The report contradicted statements Trump made to the Times in an interview last month in which he said he played no role in decisions related to Kushner’s clearance.
In an interview with Fox News, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway asserted Friday that Trump has the “absolute right” to involve himself in the security clearance process. She did not confirm or deny the reports about Trump directing Kelly to issue Kushner’s clearance.
“We don’t discuss security clearances. I am not even going to discuss my own. But I will tell you that the president has the absolute right to do what was described,” Conway said.
Kushner is one of several current or former White House officials who have drawn scrutiny as a result of the clearances they received while working in the Trump administration. Cummings has asked for information related to Kushner’s clearance, as well as those of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, as part of his investigation.
In a statement issued late Thursday in response to the Times’s report, Cummings issued a veiled threat to subpoena the documents from the White House if it doesn’t comply with the probe.
“The Committee expects full compliance with its requests as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance,” Cummings said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cummings’s letter Friday.
Jordan Fabian contributed.
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