GOP Congressman Jim Jordan tries to shield White House officials from Congress

Jim Jordan makes the White House an offer the Democrats have already refused

Published April 26, 2019 5:48PM (EDT)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) (AP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) (AP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has presented the White House with a request that Democrats on the congressional panel have already refused: to allow a White House attorney to attend an interview with former White House personnel security director Carl Kline.

In an April 26 letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, which was first obtained by CNN, Jordan suggested that the White House make Kline available to sit down for a "voluntarily transcribed interview," before the panel moves to hold Kline in contempt of Congress.

Jordan's letter comes after the White House instructed Kline not to comply with a subpoena from Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., that would compel the former executive branch aide to interview before the panel. The White House told Kline to defy the subpoena request after Cummings refused to allow a White House lawyer to attend his deposition, citing committee rules.

"To avoid unnecessary conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch and to de-escalate Chairman Cummings' orchestrated interbranch confrontation, I write to ask whether Mr. Kline would agree to appear for a voluntary transcribed interview with committee staff on April 30, or May 1, 2019," Jordan wrote.

Kline's testimony has been of high interest to Democrats following the revelation that Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told a congressional committee that the White House granted security clearances to at least 25 individuals whose applications had been denied through the usual process.

Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee in a private interview last month that White House security clearance applications "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security." She claimed she and her colleagues issued "dozens" of denials for applications, which were later overturned by senior officials, whom, by her account, did not follow the proper protocols meant to mitigate security risks and generally adhered to by previous administrations, the House Oversight panel said in a memo released earlier this month.

The memo did not identify any of the 25 applicants, although it notes that Newbold told the committee in her interview the individuals included two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and other employees working for the office of the president.

One of the senior White House officials appears to be President Donald Trump's son-in-law. Although Newbold did not name the individuals involved, NBC News reported in January that Kushner was granted a security clearance despite expert objections and concerns. And the New York Times reported in February that Trump had instructed his then-chief of staff John Kelly to grant a security clearance to Kushner, even though it was previously denied. (The president has claimed he never interfered in the background check process for Kushner.)

It is also believed Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and a senior White House adviser, was granted a security clearance against expert recommendations.

Since Newbold's testimony, Democrats on the Oversight panel have been attempting to understand the role of the president and top White House officials in the security clearance process, but their inquiry has stonewalled, largely because Cipollone has denied repeated requests, including for Kline to appear in front of the committee.

Kline had previously agreed to participate in a voluntary interview, which Jordan noted in his letter, and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been highly critical of Cummings for not taking that offer. However, Kline, through his lawyer, and the White House told Cummings that Kline would "voluntarily comply," but made clear that he "would not answer questions about specific officials, specific security violations, or specific security clearance adjudications, but instead would speak only about general policies and procedures," Cummings said in a statement earlier this month.

By Shira Tarlo

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