Ex-White House security clearance official to testify before House panel

A former White House official accused of mishandling security clearances will appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on April 23 as part of its ongoing probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process.

The lawyer representing former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline wrote in a letter to the committee Wednesday that he regrets the circumstances under which the testimony will occur but that his client will appear for the deposition later this month.

The committee voted along party lines to subpoena Kline on April 2 as part of the panel’s ongoing probe.

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“I regret the circumstances that have resulted in the Committee on Oversight and Reform electing to subpoena Carl Kline, despite our legitimate offer to have him appear voluntarily,” Kline’s attorney Robert Driscoll wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill. “We will be there for the deposition scheduled on April 23rd either way as directed.”

The committee, led by Democrats, voted to subpoena Kline after Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsDebate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Maloney wins House Oversight gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Wild Wednesday: Sondland testimony, Dem debate take center stage MORE (D-Md.) revealed that a White House official who worked under Kline told committee staff that Trump administration officials overruled career officials in 25 instances in order to grant security clearances to employees despite “disqualifying issues” in their backgrounds.

At the time of the subpoena vote, Kline’s attorney said he had agreed to interview with the committee voluntarily, however Cummings said that he sought to limit his testimony in a way that was unacceptable to the committee. Cummings had sent a request to Kline for the interview in January but received no response until the eve of the subpoena vote.

The whistleblower, Trishia Newbold, told the committee that Kline overruled her to issue a clearance to one senior White House official and removed her from a case involving another senior White House official he then approved for a clearance. Newbold also claims that Kline retaliated against her for raising national security concerns about the clearance process, according to a memo issued by Cummings that summarized her closed-door testimony.

The senior White House officials are said to be Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerUN pushes back on US reversal on Israeli settlements Pompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law Trump to tour Apple factory with Tim Cook on Wednesday MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Trump says he's 'looking at' Apple tariff exemption during tour of Texas plant Trump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report MORE, the president’s daughter.

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In the letter Wednesday, Kline’s lawyer appealed to the committee to consider withdrawing the subpoena it sent to Kline and “in substitution” send one to the White House for records that the committee wants to interview Kline about.

“By proceeding in this manner, the scope of Mr. Kline’s permissible testimony can be negotiated (or litigated) in advance, without ever putting this career civil servant to time and expense,” Driscoll wrote.

The lawyer said that Kline anticipates “conflicts” in his testimony because it is up to the White House counsel’s office to determine what topics may be covered by executive privilege.

“Anticipating conflicts, however, please note that while Mr. Kline stands ready to testify truthfully, it is the White House Counsel’s Office (not Mr. Kline) that will determine whether testimony about certain topics will infringe on executive branch or other privileges that may be asserted,” he wrote.

In a statement to The Hill, a spokesman for the committee said there is "no cause" to further delay Kline's interview. 

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“Mr. Kline’s last-minute offer to testify voluntarily rings hollow since he is refusing — to this day — to answer questions about actions he took with respect to any specific individuals the Committee is investigating," the committee spokesman said. "The Committee has received specific allegations about Mr. Kline from a White House whistleblower, and now Mr. Kline must come forward and answer the Committee’s questions.”

In the letter, Kline's lawyer also suggested the committee obtain White House records on clearance practices for senior level advisers during the first two years of the Obama administration, including specific records related to former White House advisers Ben Rhodes, Valerie Jarrett and Jay Carney. He said this would demonstrate that the committee is more concerned with probing national security risks than “scoring political points.”

Cummings initiated the investigation in January, sending a request to the White House for documents related to various officials’ clearances. The chairman also asked the White House to begin making employees in the Personnel Security Office available for transcribed interviews.

The White House has accused the committee of overstepping its oversight authorities with the investigation, noting that the power to grant or deny clearances belongs exclusively to the executive branch.

In an interview with Fox News earlier in April, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Democrats of "acting in bad faith" and said the administration had been cooperative with their requests by showing the committee documents and inviting them to meet with officials to discuss the clearance process.

"We’ve been cooperative on that front. But we’re not going to put the 3 million people who are full-time employees of the federal government that hold security clearances personal information at risk because Democrats want to pretend and play games instead of doing their jobs," Sanders said on April 2.