House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is moving toward a vote to hold former White House personnel security director Carl Kline in contempt after he refused to comply with a subpoena for his appearance before the committee on Tuesday.
Cummings’ statement came after the White House instructed Kline to not answer questions Tuesday as part of the committee’ investigation into the White House security clearance process. It also sets up what could be the most significant clash between the two branches of government since Democrats took over 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.
It’s also the latest in a series of aggressive responses from the Trump administration to House Democrats pressing multiple investigative threads, including a lawsuit the president filed on Monday against Cummings to protect President Donald Trump’s financial records.
“It also appears that the White House believes that it may dictate to Congress — an independent and co-equal branch of government — the scope of its investigations and even the rules by which it conducts them,” Cummings added. “To date, the White House has refused to produce a single piece of paper or a single witness in any of the committee’s investigations this entire year.”
Kline is accused of overriding career national security officials to approve security clearances for officials whose applications were initially denied. The allegations against him were revealed to the committee by Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower who told the Oversight Committee that Kline and others put national security at risk by granting security clearances to more than two dozen officials.
If it moves forward, the contempt vote against Kline would be the first since Trump took office. It reflects House Democrats’ frustrations with a White House that is ignoring their requests for documents and witness testimony and, in some cases, filing lawsuits to challenge congressional subpoenas.
“It’s true with all of the committees — the White House is fighting each and everyone,” said Ed Passman, Newbold’s lawyer. “This is just another example. It’s really disappointing because my client has come forward at great personal risk.”
On Monday, Trump sued Cummings in an effort to block the Oversight Committee’s subpoena to accounting firm Mazars USA. The committee is seeking eight years of Trump’s financial records from the company.
“The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump,” Trump’s lawyers declared in a court filing. “Subpoenas are their weapon of choice.”
White House deputy counsel Michael Purpura sent a letter Monday asking Kline not to answer questions because it “unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests” — a familiar refrain for the White House, which has argued that House Democrats’ sprawling investigations have no legislative purpose other than to wound Trump politically.
Kline’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, wrote a subsequent letter to the committee that Kline would not answer questions. “With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him,” Driscoll wrote in the letter to the committee.
The White House and Driscoll did not immediately respond to a request for comment.