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 CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey MORE (D-Md.) is demanding information from the White House about its compliance with federal records laws related to communications between President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFunding for Radio Free Europe to return to Hungary will send a strong message Juan Williams: Trump, the conspiracy theory president Putin: Trump not to blame for lack of improved relations with Russia MORE.

Cummings in a letter to acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyHillicon Valley: Trump official declines to testify on trade protections for tech | Senators call for better info-sharing on supply chain threats | Apple pulls app after Chinese pressure Overnight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Commerce staff drafted statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump's hurricane predictions 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.

“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 EngelFury over Trump Syria decision grows Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision MORE (D-N.Y.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffEx-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe GOP rep says he was kicked out of Trump aide's deposition 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. 

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.