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Top Democrat accuses White House of obstructing review related to Trump-Putin communications

Top Democrat accuses White House of obstructing review related to Trump-Putin communications
© Greg Nash

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsWe must act on lowering cost of prescription drugs Voters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? MORE (D-Md.) is demanding information from the White House about its compliance with federal records laws related to communications between President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin says doctors and teachers will get first COVID-19 vaccines in new immunization campaign Scarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump Will Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? MORE.

Cummings in a letter to acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney 'concerned' by Giuliani role in Trump election case On The Money: Senate releases spending bills, setting up talks for December deal | McConnell pushing for 'highly targeted' COVID deal | CFPB vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency Consumer bureau vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency MORE on Monday accused the White House of failing to address questions he raised in February in a way that has “obstructed” his committee’s review of the White House’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act (PRA). 

“I am writing to request an explanation for why the White House has failed to answer the questions raised in the letter I sent more than three months ago seeking information about troubling reports that President Donald Trump may have violated the Presidential Records Act by confiscating and destroying documents to keep secret the details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Cummings wrote Monday.

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“The Presidential Records Act is at the core of the Oversight Committee’s legislative and oversight jurisdiction, and I had hoped that the White House would cooperate voluntarily with this inquiry,” Cummings added. 

“Instead, the White House has disregarded these legitimate congressional inquiries and dissembled about basic facts. These actions do not serve the interests of the American people, and they obstruct and frustrate the Committee’s review,” he wrote.

Cummings had sent a letter to the White House with Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Top donor allegedly sold access to key politicians for millions in foreign cash: report Meet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House MORE (D-N.Y.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn MORE (D-Calif.), the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, respectively, in February raising concerns about a Washington Post report that Trump had taken steps to keep his communications with Putin secret. 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to the chairmen in March, pointing to letters issued by the White House in April 2017, October 2017 and December 2018 that he believed fully address the questions about records preservation.

“As stated in those letters, the Administration is committed to compliance with the PRA and takes appropriate steps to ensure that Presidential records are appropriately managed, preserved, and available for transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration,” Cipollone wrote. 

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In the same letter, Cipollone also rejected the chairmen’s sweeping request for documents and interviews related to Trump’s communications with Putin, arguing the president’s diplomatic communications are confidential and protected by executive privilege. 

Cummings took issue with Cipollone’s assertions in the new letter to Mulvaney, saying the White House had not answered any of the questions they raised about document preservation and noting the other correspondence was issued before the February request.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday. 

Cummings set a deadline of July 8 for the White House to provide the previously requested information, including answering whether Trump took possession of an interpreter’s notes from a meeting with Putin during the 2017 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Cummings in the letter asked whether any official within the Trump administration has any record of meetings or calls between Trump and Putin, and if so, to provide the date of the calls or meetings, the identities of those who possess or control the records related to them, and other information. 

Cummings also requested a transcribed interview by the same date with the director of the White House Office of Records Management or another official “competent” to answer questions about the White House’s compliance with the records law.