A Democratic-controlled House committee moved Tuesday to hold a former White House personnel security chief in contempt of Congress for failing to appear at a hearing about allegations that top advisers to President Donald Trump were granted security clearances they were not entitled to.
Congressman Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, said that Carl Kline, who held the security job during the first two years of the Trump presidency, was in "open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena with no assertion of any privilege of any kind" by Trump to keep him from testifying.
Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, had been scheduled to appear before the Oversight panel on Tuesday to answer allegations raised by a former aide of his, Tricia Newbold. She was a whistleblower who told the committee last month that senior White House officials ignored the findings of government security reviewers to approve clearances for 25 individuals despite personal and problematic national security issues in their backgrounds.
One of those initially rejected by the reviewers was Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a current White House adviser. Trump intervened in Kushner's case, personally ordering then White House chief of staff John Kelly to give Kushner a top-secret clearance, a move that so unsettled Kelly that he documented the president's demand in writing.
A White House lawyer, Michael Purpura, wrote Kline a letter on Monday, instructing him to not testify before the lawmakers. Purpura said the committee subpoena "unconstitutionally encroaches on the fundamental executive branch interests."
Kline's attorney, Robert Driscoll, said his client, caught between the congressional panel's subpoena to testify and the White House call to ignore the subpoena, would "follow the instructions of the one that employs him."
Cummings dismissed Driscoll's stance, saying that "Kline stands accused of retaliating against a whistleblower who reported serious allegations of abuse to Congress."
The lawmaker said, "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."
Cummings said he would consult with other Oversight committee members about scheduling a vote to hold Kline in contempt.