House Democrats Wrestle With White House Over Investigations
WASHINGTON (AP) — The struggle between House Democrats and the Trump administration over investigations intensified as a former White House official defied a subpoena and the Treasury Department ignored a deadline for providing President Donald Trump's tax returns.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the White House has adopted the "untenable" position that it can ignore requests from the Democratic majority in the House.
"It appears that the president believes that the Constitution does not apply to his White House, that he may order officials at will to violate their legal obligations, and that he may obstruct attempts by Congress to conduct oversight," Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement.
Cummings was specifically referring to Carl Kline, a former White House personnel security director, who was subpoenaed by Democrats.
Kline did not show up Tuesday for a scheduled deposition, and Cummings said he is consulting with other lawmakers and staff about scheduling a vote to hold Kline in contempt of Congress. The committee subpoenaed Kline after one of his former subordinates told the panel that dozens of people in Trump's administration were granted security clearances despite "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds.
Trump said he doesn't want former or current aides testifying in Congress, "where it's very partisan — obviously very partisan."
Trump told The Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday night, "I don't want people testifying to a party, because that is what they're doing if they do this."
Meanwhile, the administration on Tuesday defied a demand from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., to turn over six years of Trump's tax returns by the close of business — a strong signal that they intend to reject the request. In a letter to Neal, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked for more time and said he would give the panel a final decision by May 6.
Mnuchin wrote Neal that he is consulting with the Justice Department "due to the serious constitutional questions raised by this request and the serious consequences that a resolution of those questions could have for taxpayer privacy."
Neal hasn't announced next steps, but he could opt to issue a subpoena to enforce his demand, sent under a 1924 law that requires the Treasury secretary to furnish any tax return requested by a handful of lawmakers with responsibility over the IRS.
The fight over Kline's appearance comes as the White House has stonewalled the oversight panel in several different investigations. On Monday, Trump and his business organization sued Cummings to block a subpoena that seeks years of the president's financial records. The complaint, filed in federal court in Washington, said a subpoena from Cummings "has no legitimate legislative purpose" and accused Democrats of harassing Trump.
Cummings said the White House "has refused to produce a single piece of paper or a single witness" in any of the panel's investigations this year. Democrats took control of the House in January.
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's personal attorneys, said he would force the issue into court by ignoring House Democrats' document requests.
"They can't investigate his taxes better than the IRS. They want his taxes to embarrass him," Giuliani said Wednesday on "Fox and Friends." ''That's why a court has a very good chance of ruling this is obstructive, this is harassment, this is not the proper use of legislative power, but fight every subpoena. They are entitled to nothing. This is like the judge saying 'I'm going to hang you, but let's have a little trial first.'"
The back and forth over Kline's testimony played out in a series of letters over the past month between the White House, the oversight committee and Kline's lawyer. The White House demanded that one of its lawyers attend the deposition to ensure executive privilege was protected, but Cummings rejected that request. The White House then ordered Kline, who now works at the Pentagon, to defy the subpoena.
Cummings said the committee has for years required that witnesses are represented only by their own counsel.
"There are obvious reasons we need to conduct our investigations of agency malfeasance without representatives of the office under investigation," Cummings said in a statement.
A spokesman for the top Republican on the oversight panel, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, said Cummings was choosing confrontation over cooperation.
"Chairman Cummings rushed to a subpoena in his insatiable quest to sully the White House," said Russell Dye.
The oversight panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter.
Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, told the committee earlier this year that she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year because of their backgrounds. But she said senior Trump aides overturned those decisions, moves she said weren't made "in the best interest of national security."
According to a committee memo, Newbold said the disqualifying issues included foreign influence, conflicts of interest, financial problems, drug use, personal conduct and criminal conduct.
Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file. Kline was Newbold's supervisor.
Newbold said when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process and removed from a supervisory responsibility.