White House consents to congressional interview of ex-staffer on security
(Reuters) – The White House said on Friday it has consented to a former staffer appearing before a congressional panel for an “on the record interview,” accompanied by his lawyers, regarding security clearance policies and procedures.
The “reasonable accommodation offer” of a voluntary appearance by former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform was disclosed in a letter to the panel’s ranking Republican, Jim Jordan.
It came after Jordan, a leader of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus better known for stoking than soothing partisan frictions, sought to defuse tensions between House Democrats and the Trump administration with a letter urging the White House to agree to a voluntary committee interview on April 30 or May 1, according to two sources who saw Jordan’s letter.
The House Oversight Committee is probing allegations that the administration inappropriately granted security clearances to some Trump advisers during Kline’s tenure as personnel security director for the White House.
Kline served in that post for the first two years of Trump’s presidency and now works for the Defense Department.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone responded to Jordan, saying on Friday that Kline “is available to appear for an interview on Wednesday, May 1,” with the committee, according to a copy of the Cipollone letter obtained by Reuters.
“We understand the scope of the interview will be limited to White House personnel security policies and practices, consistent with our prior offers for Mr. Kline’s voluntary cooperation with the Committee,” Cipollone said in the letter.
The committee, chaired by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, has issued a subpoena to compel Kline to testify before the panel under oath.
While acceding to an “on the record interview,” the Cipollone letter makes no mention of sworn testimony. He calls the subpoena “unnecessary” in light of the “additional accommodation offer made over three weeks ago” for Kline’s voluntary appearance.
No immediate comment was available from Cummings or other Democrats on the committee, and it was not clear whether they would accept the terms laid out by Cipollone.
Still, the approach by Jordan was the first sign since the release last week of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections that House Republicans might be willing to cooperate with Democrats on probes into national security issues.
Among recipients of the security clearances at issue, said congressional sources who asked not to be named, were Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. Both allegedly obtained high-level clearances, despite recommendations from career security officials against it.
In a dispute over the terms of Kline’s appearance before the committee, the White House had advised him to ignore the subpoena. The committee responded by moving to hold Kline in contempt of Congress, possibly followed by legal action.
Two congressional sources told Reuters that Jordan’s letter to Cipollone on Friday had urged the White House “to avoid unnecessary conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch and to deescalate Chairman Cummings’s orchestrated inter-branch confrontation.”
Jordan warned that Cummings might proceed with contempt of Congress proceedings against Kline as early as next week.
Cummings launched the investigation after Tricia Newbold, a career security official at the White House, disclosed that the administration overruled experts to give questionable security clearances to more than two dozen people.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Steve Gorman and Michael Perry)