The relationship between the Trump administration and House Democrats is continuing to break down. This Tuesday, in response to continued stonewalling from the Trump team, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) announced he was preparing for a vote to hold former White House personnel security chief Carl Kline in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a committee subpoena for testimony. The fight isn’t just between Cummings and Kline — the White House itself demanded the former official refuse to comply with the subpoena after it became clear the committee wasn’t keen on having an administration official sit in on the testimony to jump in over possible incursions into the ever-shifting Trump-ian concept of “executive privilege.”
In response, Cummings asserted:
‘I intend to consult with House Counsel and Committee members about scheduling a vote on contempt. I hope that Mr. Kline, in close consultation with his personal attorney, will carefully review his legal obligations, reconsider his refusal to appear, and begin cooperating with the Committee’s investigation.’
It’s Kline’s attorney Robert Driscoll who told Cummings hours prior to his statement that his client would not be appearing for a scheduled deposition. Besides also roping Driscoll into his criticism, the high-profile Maryland Congressman also directly lambasted the Trump administration for helping with “open defiance of a duly authorized Congressional subpoena.”
Cummings wants information about the White House security clearance process, which Kline had a role in during his time on staff. He apparently repeatedly overruled lower-level objections about granting clearances to staff members — including some as high-ranking as Jared Kushner — who had significant red flags in their background.
In the case of at least Kushner and apparently Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump himself was reportedly behind the move, even after Kushner updated his security clearance forms numerous times, consistently adding information about more foreign contacts that made any clearance suspect. Altogether, the higher-ups in the White House personnel office overruled career staffers who had concerns about as many as 25 officials across the administration.
Besides those highly questionable clearance grants from Kline, he reportedly also retaliated against a lower-level staffer who consistently brought concerns to his attention. Career official Tricia Newbold revealed to the House Oversight Committee that she was abruptly suspended without pay for two weeks earlier this year and has been reassigned away from security clearances after she raised concerns covering issues “involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.” Kline so far refuses to answer for any of this.
There have been issues along these lines before, remarkably enough even when the House was under Republican control. Former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon sat for an interview with the then-Republican-majority House Intelligence Committee and ended up subpoenaed after he refused to answer the vast majority of their questions on the basis of a vague assertion of “executive privilege,” which has popped up numerous times at this point in Trump team responses to investigations.
In the time since that Bannon interview, the Trump team for months consistently refused to provide a single document or witness for testimony that Cummings’ panel has requested. They’ve gone to extreme lengths to hide information about former staffers, “regardless of whether that employee lied to federal investigators about communicating with the Russians or continued [at the White House] after the FBI reported derogatory information involving domestic violence,” as Cummings put it, referring to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former staff secretary Rob Porter, respectively.
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