Committee issues security clearance ultimatum to White House
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee issued a stark warning Friday to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, demanding that the White House turn over documents and comply with interviews related to how the White House handled security clearances of some of the President’s closest advisers.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland gave the White House counsel’s office until March 4 to comply with the request.
“I am now writing a final time to request your voluntary cooperation with this investigation,” Cummings said. “I ask that you begin producing all responsive documents immediately, and I request that you begin scheduling transcribed interviews with each witness identified by the Committee.”
Cummings’ letter comes after The New York Times reported Thursday that the President personally intervened to secure his son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance, despite concerns from career officials. The President had previously denied he personally intervened.
“If true, these new reports raise grave questions about what derogatory information career officials obtained about Mr. Kushner to recommend denying him access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets, why President Trump concealed his role in overruling that recommendation, why General Kelly and Mr. McGahn both felt compelled to document these actions, and why your office is continuing to withhold key documents and witnesses from this Committee,” Cummings wrote on Friday.
The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment Friday on Cummings’ request for information.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told CNN that he wants former White House chief of staff John Kelly to appear before the panel — and he says the committee needs to obtain Kelly’s memo about Trump ordering the Kushner security clearance.
“I’d love to see Mr. Kelly come before our committee,” Connolly said.
But according to letters released by Cummings Friday, the White House believes it has broad jurisdiction to protect security clearance information about the President’s closest confidantes from Congress.
In one letter from White House counsel Cipollone, the White House argues they are willing to “make available for your review” documents about the White House security clearance process, but says the White House believes Congress doesn’t have the oversight authority to review individual security clearance decisions, given the belief Article II provides the President broad discretion about who he shares information with. Cipollone writes, “the President, Not Congress, Has the Power to Control National Security Information.” In another letter, he urges Cummings to make requests about security clearance information “narrowly focused” and “limited.”
In Cipollone’s letter, he also asks Cummings not to go around the White House counsel’s office to try to obtain information directly from White House staffers. He specifically cites efforts to talk to Kelly.
“We have learned that the Committee’s Chief Oversight Counsel has repeatedly made phone calls to former Chief of Staff General John Kelly’s residence, seeking information about an Executive Branch decision. Once again, these actions disregard my earlier request to the Committee regarding contacts with former or current White House officials. It is vital that these contacts run through my office, so that we may protect the important confidentiality interests of the Executive,” Cipollone wrote.
On Thursday after the Times story broke, Cummings threatened to issue a subpoena for the information if the White House doesn’t comply with the request.
“To date, the White House has not produced a single document or scheduled a single interview,” Cummings said in a statement. “The Committee expects full compliance with its requests as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance.”
Connolly also told CNN in an interview Friday that he believed that Cummings will likely be forced to issue the subpoena given the resistance from the White House on the issue.
“We get to have oversight,” Connolly told CNN. “We have oversight over security clearances. For example, we have gotten involved in the outsourcing of security clearances, we have gotten involved in the backlog. That isn’t exclusively an executive branch function. We have every right to exercise our constitutional role.”
Cummings announced on January 23 that he was investigating the security clearance process at the White House and requested information about the background investigations and security clearances of national security adviser John Bolton, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, his son Michael Flynn Jr., former deputy assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka, Kushner, former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland and former senior director for Africa Robin Townley.
Cummings also requested information on the formal protocol of issuing security clearances at the White House and all the documents related to a February 2018 memo Kelly, then-the White House chief of staff, issued on how to improve the process.