House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan warned the White House on Friday that Chairman Elijah Cummings could initiate contempt proceedings against former personnel security director Carl Kline after the White House directed him to defy a subpoena to appear before the panel.
Jordan penned a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Friday, warning that Cummings, a Democrat, could begin proceedings against Kline “as soon as next Tuesday,” and asked if Kline could appear for a transcribed interview with committee staff on April 30 or May 1.
A source close to Jordan told Fox News Friday that the letter was sent “in an attempt to get Kline’s testimony, not to head off contempt, but to de-escalate, respect the process, and get information.”
Jordan’s office has argued in the past that Kline has offered to come in voluntarily.
“Our letter reinvites him to come in voluntarily and say all he can, hopefully providing all necessary answers,” they continued. “We hope that is Kline comes, the Democrats will join but it seems like they are more interested in confrontation with the WH than actually getting answers.”
Jordan’s efforts come after Deputy White House Counsel to the President Michael Purpura directed Kline and his attorney, Robert Driscoll, to ignore the subpoena issued by the committee. Kline was slated to appear before the panel for an interview on Wednesday but was told to ignore it, unless a representative from the White House counsel was permitted to attend that interview.
“This letter serves to inform you that Mick Mulvaney, Acting Chief of Staff to the President, has directed Mr. Kline not to appear on April 23, 2019,” the letter from the White House to Driscoll read. “The Department of Justice is aware of and concurs with the legal position taken by the White House that Mr. Kline does not need to appear for his deposition if no representative of this office is permitted to attend.”
Driscoll then notified the committee that Kline would not appear for his scheduled deposition. Driscoll wrote to Cummings late Monday that the decision to adhere to the White House’s demands was “not made lightly and does not come from any ill will or deliberate defiance” on his or Kline’s part.
“We wished to answer the legitimate legislative questions of this committee, but warned of an impending conflict,” Driscoll wrote, adding that they have done their “best” to avoid the issue. “It is my sincere hope that this interbranch dispute can be worked out. If so, we will promptly and eagerly arrange a time with committee staff for his voluntary appearance. Thank you for your understanding.”
Last week, though, the White House requested that the committee “allow a representative of the Office of Counsel to the President to attend” Kline’s interview, but the committee denied the request.
But Cummings, this week, blasted the White House calling demands for Kline to defy the subpoena “untenable.”
"The White House and Mr. Kline now stand in open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena with no assertion of any privilege of any kind by President Trump. Based on these actions, 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. 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 said in a statement Tuesday.
Cummings added that Kline's attorney is "trying to cast him as caught in the middle of a dispute between the Committee and the White House, asserting that Mr. Kline is ‘not a party in interest.’ That is not correct."
"Mr. Kline stands accused of retaliating against a whistleblower who reported serious allegations of abuse to Congress," Cummings said. "As the Committee with primary jurisdiction over the Whistleblower Protection Act, we take extremely seriously our responsibility to investigate these allegations and to protect the rights of all whistleblowers who come before Congress. Mr. Kline has a direct and personal legal obligation to comply with this subpoena, and he failed to do so."
Kline’s subpoena was issued as part of the committee’s investigation into security clearances issued to senior Trump administration officials, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter.
The probe intensified after Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, revealed that she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year, but had senior officials overrule those denials.
The allegations were detailed in a letter and memo released Monday by Cummings.
The documents, which are based on Newbold's March 23 private committee interview, don't identify the officials on the list but say they include "two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals" in different parts of the Executive Office of the President.
The White House’s defiance of the Kline subpoena comes after lawyers for Trump on Monday sued the committee to block subpoenas for the president’s financial records.
The president vowed, this week, to fight “all” subpoenas issued by Congress for current and former administration officials.