US House panel escalates probe into disputed White House security clearances
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings on Monday threatened to begin subpoenaing current and former White House officials as part of an investigation into two dozen disputed security clearances issued under President Donald Trump, including that of his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Monday, Cummings said his panel would move to authorise a subpoena of former White House personnel security director Carl Kline at a committee meeting on Tuesday.
Recommend security clearances
With the demands, the committee revealed that an administration whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, had detailed in an interview to the panel accusations of being pressured to recommend security clearances for officials who had previously been denied. She told the committee she kept of a list of more than two dozen people who had received denials.
Cummings called on the White House to avoid additional subpoenas by providing documents sought by the committee, including the list generated by Newbold, a manager in the White House personnel security office.
Cummings letter was the second sent from Congress on Monday warning the White House of pending subpoenas as the Democratic-controlled Congress seeks to compel the administration to comply with wide-ranging investigations.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler informed the administration on Monday that he intends to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Muller’s full report on his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorney Abbe Lowell, who represents Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, had no comment.
Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, issued a statement calling the letter a “partisan attack” that was “an excuse to go fishing through the personal files of dedicated public servants.”
Cummings also said his committee is working with Newbold, who he said knows of more than two-dozen individuals allowed access to national security information despite recommendations that their clearance applications be denied.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating security clearance abuses that involve Kushner, who is a senior adviser to the president, and others, amid reports that Trump ordered his former chief of staff John Kelly to provide Kushner with clearance over objections from Kelly and Donald McGahn, then White House counsel.
Democrats have made repeated requests for documents and interviews but say the White House has been stonewalling.
“The committee now plans to proceed with (a) compulsory process and begin authorizing subpoenas, starting at tomorrow’s business meeting,” Cummings said in the letter.
The committee has interviewed Newbold about “grave security risks” that she has witnessed in the past two years, Cummings said.
Newbold told the committee that she and other career officers have adjudicated dozens of denials of security clearance applications that were later overturned, according to Cummings. He said Newbold has worked in the White House for 18 years.
“I would not be doing a service to myself, my country or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security,” Cummings quoted Newbold as saying.
Newbold also was targeted for retaliation after declining to approve applications based on national security protocols, Cummings said.
“I’m terrified of going back. I know that this will not be perceived in favour of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office,” she is quoted as saying in the letter.
Cummings wants to depose Kline about security clearance practices at the White House in the past two years, the treatment of specific cases and his interactions with Newbold. Kline, who now works at the Pentagon, did not respond to two committee letters sent in February and March seeking a voluntary interview, Cummings said.
After deposing Kline, Cummings said the committee would interview others from the White House, including the current chief security officer, former Chief Security Officer Cory Louie, Chief Operating Officer Samuel Price, former Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and Deputy Director of Administration William Hughes.