House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Manchin says no; White House fires back House Democrats find drug companies 'unjustified' in price hikes Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (D-Md.) on Tuesday criticized the White House for failing to comply with requests for documents and interviews in connection with his panel’s probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process.
Cummings, who said he would consult committee lawmakers to “determine our next steps” to obtain those materials, also released a new letter written by White House counsel Pat Cipollone in which he accused the committee of making “unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive demands” in the course of its probe.
Cipollone also argued that the committee was overstepping its oversight powers with the requests, writing that the “decision to grant or deny a security clearance is a discretionary function that belongs exclusively to the Executive Branch.”
Cummings on Tuesday blasted the White House counsel’s argument as “[defying] the Constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this Committee, and just plain common-sense.”
“The White House appears to be arguing that Congress has no authority to examine decisions by the Executive Branch that impact our national security — even when the President’s former National Security Advisor has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with foreign government officials,” Cummings said.
“There is a key difference between a president who exercises his authority under the Constitution and a president who overrules career experts and his top advisors to benefit his family members and then conceals his actions from the American people,” the top Democrat said.
Tuesday's developments represent an escalation in the battle between the White House and one of multiple Democratic-led probes in the House. They also raise the possibility that Cummings could look to subpoena the administration for the documents and interviews in order to force its compliance.
Cummings did not specifically raise the possibility of a subpoena but said ominously, “I will be consulting with Members of the Committee to determine our next steps.”
Cummings first announced the expansive investigation into security clearances issued to President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerKushner investment firm raises more than B: report Trump: Netanyahu 'never wanted peace' with Palestinians Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah MORE and other top White House officials on Jan. 23. That same day, he asked the White House for a trove of documents related to security clearances and background investigations of top White House officials by Feb. 6. He also sought the White House’s cooperation in scheduling transcribed interviews with staff working in the personnel security office beginning the week of Feb. 11.
Cummings accused the White House of stonewalling the probe on Friday and imposed a Monday deadline for the Trump administration to respond to the committee’s probe.
Cummings also released written correspondence between his committee and Cipollone in which the White House counsel wrote that the executive branch 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 expanded on his argument in the March 4 letter released by Cummings on Tuesday. In it, Cipollone claimed that the committee, “has failed to point to any authority establishing a legitimate legislative purpose for the Committee’s unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive demands—including the demand to examine the entire investigative files of numerous individuals whom the President has chosen as his senior advisors."
“Although we are prepared to continue negotiations in good faith, the Committee seeks unilateral concessions without any offer of accommodation on its part, and then complains that the White House has refused to simply turn over everything the Committee inappropriately seeks,” Cipollone wrote in the correspondence.
“These actions suggest that the Committee is not interested in proper oversight, but rather seeks information that it knows cannot be provided consistent with applicable law,” he wrote.
The security clearance investigation is one of several congressional probes that the White House is contending with from the Democratic-controlled House.
On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) unveiled a sprawling probe into allegations of obstruction, abuses of power and public corruption by Trump, sending document requests to dozens of associates of the president, executive branch agencies and private organizations.
Trump has blasted the probes as “Presidential Harassment” and on Tuesday signaled the White House will not comply with a barrage of congressional investigations.
“It's a disgrace to our country. I'm not surprised that it's happening. Basically, they've started the campaign. So the campaign begins,” Trump told reporters after signing an executive order on veterans’ suicide prevention at the White House.
“Instead of doing infrastructure, instead of doing health care, instead of doing so many things that they should be doing, they want to play games,” Trump added.
Jordan Fabian contributed.