White House moves to block official from congressional testimony despite subpoena

The White House has told a former official who supervised security clearances not to appear before the House Oversight Committee as part of a sprawling probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process. 

In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings asks prosecutors about decision not to charge Trump in hush money probe DHS chief to Pelosi: Emergency border funding 'has already had an impact' Cummings tears into DHS chief for conditions at migrant border facilities MORE (D-Md.) obtained by The Hill, Michael Purpura, deputy counsel to President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE, wrote that acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says Democrats shouldn't use debt ceiling as leverage MORE had told former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline not to appear before the 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.”

Kline, who now works for the Defense Department, faces a subpoena and planned to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday as part of its ongoing probe into the Trump administration’s security clearance process. His lawyer Robert Driscoll, however, said in a letter late Monday that Kline would not appear for his scheduled testimony in order to comply with the White House’s request.

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The move sets up a potential showdown between the executive branch and Congress, and represents the latest effort by the White House to push back on the Democrat-led investigations percolating in the House.

“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 in a statement. “I intend to consult with House Counsel and Committee Members about scheduling a vote on contempt."

The White House has argued that the committee is overstepping its legitimate oversight authorities with the investigation that Cummings launched in January, noting that the power to grant or deny clearances belongs exclusively to the executive branch. White House officials have offered to discuss the processes and procedures used by the Personnel Security Office but refused to provide information about background investigations for specific individuals.

Cummings, meanwhile, has accused the White House of stonewalling his probe.

The committee voted along party lines to subpoena Kline in early April as part of the ongoing investigation, after a career 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.

The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, told committee staff that Kline overruled her to issue a clearance to a senior White House official reported to be Trump’s son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Trump: 'We already started' talks to get A$AP Rocky home from Sweden Kim Kardashian West thanks Trump, Kushner for helping efforts to free A$AP Rocky from Swedish jail MORE and claims that Kline retaliated against her for raising national security concerns about the clearance process. Republicans have accused Cummings of cherry picking from her testimony in a lengthy memo laying out what Newbold told staffers in her debriefing.

In earlier correspondence, Driscoll said Kline would appear before the committee on April 23 but warned there could be “conflicts” in his testimony because it would be up to the White House to determine what matters are covered by executive privilege. He asked the committee withdraw the subpoena and instead compel the White House to produce records they are targeting — a suggestion he repeated Monday.

“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.”

In his letter to Cummings, Purpura cited an earlier April 18 letter laying out that request, which he noted the committee had denied in a letter sent to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Monday.

“On April 22, 2019, the Committee responded that “[t]he Committee will not permit a representative from [this] office to attend the deposition,’” Purpura wrote, quoting from Cummings’ letter.

“Accordingly, and for the reasons stated in our April 18, 2019 letter, the Acting Chief of Staff to the President Mick Mulvaney has directed Mr. Kline not to appear on April 23, 2019,” Purpura wrote. “Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter.”

Trump and his private business moved on Monday to sue Cummings to try to block a subpoena requesting financial records from the president’s accountant. The lawsuit filed Monday argues congressional Democrats are abusing their subpoena power and aims to prevent Cummings from obtaining records from Mazars USA, an accounting firm used by the president and his businesses.

Updated 1:20 p.m.