WASHINGTON (CN) – A day before the fight for the Mueller report is expected to turn the same corner, a powerful House committee voted Tuesday to subpoena the Trump administration over its security-clearance practices and the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Authorized this afternoon by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the move comes a day after the committee released details of an interview with Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security official.
Newbold told the committee that higher-ups in the White House overturned 25 decisions from career security officials that denied security clearances, including some for yet-unnamed “senior White House officials.”
The issue of security clearances is one that has dominated the committee’s focus for months, said Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.
Back in January, Cummings said, the committee raised concerns about the how clearance was given to the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Though the White House refused to let the committee conduct such an interview, Tuesday’s vote allows the committee to subpoena former White House personnel security director Carl Kline.
Cummings said Kline initially ignored letters the committee sent him in February and March. It was only after the committee publicized details about Newbold’s testimony Monday, Cummings said, that Kline agreed to come before lawmakers voluntarily.
Kline has said he will not answer questions about specific security-clearance decisions, Cummings said.
Cummings denied that the subpoena is politically motivated.
“Over and over again I hear these comments about, oh they’re just trying to embarrass the president,” Cummings said Tuesday. “No, that is not true. What we’re trying to do is protect our secrets. We’re trying to make sure we have a process that works.”
Republicans on the committee objected to Democrats’ handling of Newbold’s interview, which took place on March 23, a Saturday. Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said lawmakers were out of town on a recess and only learned about the interview the day before it took place.
“That’s how we’re going to do investigations in the Oversight Committee?” Jordan asked. “Talk to one person and then issue a big press statement so you can get some headlines?”
Cummings said they scheduled the hearing at short notice because Newbold was afraid the White House would retaliate against her for coming forward.
The second set of subpoenas authorized Tuesday involve the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that the citizenship question was added at the request of the Justice Department, federal judges in New York and California have ruled that Ross’ conduct appears pretextual.
Groups opposed to the change in the once-in-a-decade census contend that a citizenship question is specifically geared at undercounting minorities, who tend to vote Democrat.
In addition to testimony from Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore, the subpoenas seek documents detailing the Justice Department’s communications with the Commerce Department, White House, the Trump campaign and others on the citizenship question.
It also asks for a string of emails to and from Ross that discuss the census.
“The committee is simply trying to determine the real reason Secretary Ross added the citizenship question and the documents and testimony covered by these subpoenas are critical to answering that question,” Cummings said.
Republicans on the committee have accused Democrats of using the investigation to aid court challenges: the Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month on those matters.
The Commerce Department wrote to lawmakers Monday that it was still determining what documents it could release and needed more time to comply with the committee’s request. Voicing disappointment with the vote on subpoenas today meanwhile, the department released a statement from Secretary Ross.
“The department remains committed to an open and responsive relationship with the committee and has been nothing but cooperative with the committee’s expansive and detailed request for records,” Ross said. “As of today we have turned over 11,500 pages of documents to the committee and I voluntarily testified in front of the same committee for nearly seven hours on this issue two weeks ago.”
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Wednesday to authorize subpoenas for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.