The Trump administration has agreed to allow a former White House personnel security director, whom House Democrats had threatened with contempt, to testify on Wednesday — a de-escalation move after the president said he would ignore “all the subpoenas.”
In a statement late Saturday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Carl Kline, the former security official, would voluntarily appear for an interview in the panel’s investigation of the administration’s handling of security clearances.
The agreement came after White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone on Friday sent a letter to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, saying that Kline would answer questions.
The White House had blocked Kline from showing up for an earlier subpoenaed deposition, leading Cummings to announce that he’d hold Kline in contempt for ignoring a compulsory Hill summons.
In his statement, Cummings made clear that he expected Kline to cooperate fully.
“You will be expected to answer all of the committee’s questions, including questions about specific White House officials and allegations of retaliation against the whistleblower,” Cummings said. “If you answer all of these questions, there would be no need for the committee to pursue contempt against you in the future.”
Kline’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said Saturday night that his client looks forward to testifying.
“We will gladly appear Wednesday as requested,” he said. “We hope it is a productive session.”
Cipollone had said the scope of the interview would be limited to “policy and practices” of the security clearance office. But Democrats have already received broad briefings on office practices. They want to grill Kline on specific decisions he made to grant security clearances to several top Trump officials after his subordinates raised red flags about their qualifications.
A whistleblower from his office, Tricia Newbold, told the committee that she and her team counted at least 25 situations over the past year in what she viewed as approvals that were granted despite concerns about blackmail or other exposures.
One of those was the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser.
Newbold said Kline and the office’s practices under the Trump administration had potentially put the nation’s most guarded secrets at risk.
Kline no longer works in the security office.
The White House’s relent on the matter came after Jordan on Friday made a plea for Kline’s appearance, an unusual move for one of the president’s fiercest defenders on the Hill. Republicans last Congress had joined Democrats in wanting to investigate the matter, but since Democrats took the majority, Cummings and Jordan have often locked horns.
But a Republican aide familiar with Jordan’s thinking said he was hoping to de-escalate the standoff between House Democrats and the White House. In a week’s time, after all, Trump officials blocked or announced they would block subpoenaed individuals from cooperating with House investigations.
Should such a precedent stand, future administrations could do the same thing.
Even as Jordan sought to fill a mediator role, he blamed Cummings for the situation, not the White House. He has noted that Kline had agreed to appear voluntarily before he was subpoenaed and accused Democrats of an “orchestrated inter-branch confrontation.”