The Trump administration has agreed to allow a former White House personnel security director, who House Democrats threatened with contempt, to testify on May 1 — a de-escalation move after President Trump said he would ignore “all the subpoenas.”
White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone sent a letter Friday to Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, saying that Carl Kline, the former White House personnel security director, would answer questions for the panel’s investigation of security clearance issues in an on-the-record interview next week.
The White House had blocked Kline from showing up for a subpoenaed deposition earlier this week, leading Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) to announce that he’d hold Kline in contempt for ignoring a compulsory Hill summons.
Cipollone’s offer is unlikely to mollify panel Democrats: He 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 she and her team counted at least 25 situations over the past year in what she viewed as unmerited approvals that were granted despite concerns about blackmail or other exposures.
One of those individuals was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to the president.
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.
“Mr. Kline has been, and remains, willing to cooperate voluntarily on whatever terms can be agreed on,” said Robert Driscoll, Kline’s lawyer. “I’m sure this won’t be the end of the matter, but . . . wherever we can helpful, we will be.”
The White House’s relent on the matter came after Jordan on Friday made a personal plea for Kline’s appearance, an unusual move for one of Trump’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 locked horns near constantly.
But a Republican aide familiar with Jordan’s thinking said he was hoping to de-escalate the rising standoff between House Democrats and the White House. This week alone, 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 moved to play a mediator role between the two sides, he blamed Cummings for the situation, not the Trump 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.”
Oversight Democrats did not return requests for comments.