WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee says the White House is in "open defiance" of his panel after lawyers advised a former official to ignore a subpoena related to the committee's investigation of White House security clearances .
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he is consulting with other lawmakers and staff about scheduling a vote to hold former White House personnel security director Carl Kline in contempt of Congress after Kline did not show up on Tuesday for a scheduled deposition. The committee subpoenaed Kline after one of his former subordinates told the panel that dozens of people in President Donald Trump's administration were granted security clearances despite "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds.
The fight over Kline's appearance comes as the White House has stonewalled the 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 accuses Democrats of harassing Trump.
The administration also appears sure to defy 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 on Tuesday. Neal hasn't announced next steps after sending two letters to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig demanding Trump's taxes, but he could opt next 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.
Cummings said on Tuesday in a statement that "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."
He 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.
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. Cummings rejected that request. The White House then ordered Kline, who now works at the Pentagon, to defy the subpoena.
Cummings said that 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.
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 oversees 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 says senior Trump aides overturned those decisions, moves that 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 that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process and removed from a supervisory responsibility.