Trump Tells Aides to Defy Subpoenas From Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — The struggle between House Democrats and the Trump administration over investigations intensified as a former White House official defied a subpoena, President Trump said all of his aides should do likewise, and the Treasury Department ignored a deadline for providing Trump’s personal and business tax returns.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the White House is in “open defiance” of his panel by defying a subpoena and indicating it will continue to do so. (AP file photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the White House has adopted the “untenable” position that it can ignore requests from the Democratic majority in the House.

“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, D-Md., said in a statement.

Cummings was specifically referring to Carl Kline, a former White House personnel security director, who was subpoenaed by Democrats. Kline did not show up Tuesday for a scheduled deposition, and Cummings said he is consulting with other lawmakers and staff about scheduling a vote to hold Kline in contempt of Congress.

The committee subpoenaed Kline after one of his former subordinates told the panel that dozens of people in Trump’s administration were granted security clearances despite “disqualifying issues” in their backgrounds.

Trump said he does not want former or current aides testifying in Congress, “where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan.”

Trump told The Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday night: “I don’t want people testifying to a party, because that is what they’re doing if they do this.”

The administration on Tuesday defied a demand from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., to turn over six years of Trump’s tax returns by the close of business — a strong signal that they intend to reject the request. In a letter to Neal, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asked for more time and said he would give the panel a final decision by May 6.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he will respond to a House request for President Trump’s tax returns by May 6 – 13 days later than the deadline set by the House. (AP file photo/Patrick Semansky)

Mnuchin wrote Neal that he is consulting with the Justice Department “due to the serious constitutional questions raised by this request and the serious consequences that a resolution of those questions could have for taxpayer privacy.”

Neal has not announced the next steps, but he could issue a subpoena to enforce his demand, sent under a 1924 law that requires the Treasury secretary to furnish any tax return requested by a handful of lawmakers with responsibility over the IRS.

The fight over Kline’s appearance comes as the White House has stonewalled the oversight panel in several investigations. On Monday, Trump and his business organization sued Cummings to block a subpoena that seeks years of Trump’s financial records. The complaint in federal court in Washington said a subpoena from Cummings “has no legitimate legislative purpose” and accused Democrats of harassment.

Cummings said the White House “has refused to produce a single piece of paper or a single witness” in any of the panel’s investigations this year. Democrats took control of the House in January.

The back-and-forth over Kline’s testimony played out in a series of letters over the past month between the White House, the oversight committee and Kline’s lawyer. The White House demanded that one of its lawyers attend the deposition to ensure executive privilege was protected, but Cummings rejected that request. The White House then ordered Kline, who now works at the Pentagon, to defy the subpoena.

Cummings said the committee has for years required that witnesses are represented only by their own counsel.

“There are obvious reasons we need to conduct our investigations of agency malfeasance without representatives of the office under investigation,” Cummings said in a statement.

A spokesman for the top Republican on the oversight panel, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, said Cummings was choosing confrontation over cooperation. 

“Chairman Cummings rushed to a subpoena in his insatiable quest to sully the White House,” said Russell Dye. 

The oversight panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter.

Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, told the committee this year that she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year because of their backgrounds. She said senior Trump aides overturned those decisions, moves she said were not made “in the best interest of national security.”

According to a committee memo, Newbold said the disqualifying issues included foreign influence, conflicts of interest, financial problems, drug use, personal conduct and criminal conduct.

Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House, to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file. Kline was Newbold’s supervisor.

Newbold said that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process and removed from a supervisory responsibility.

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