The chairman of the House Oversight Committee is threatening to hold a Trump administration official in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for testimony in the panel’s White House security clearance investigation, the first move of its kind from the Democrat-led House.
In a statement, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said former White House official Carl Kline did not appear for a Tuesday deposition, and that he and the White House “stand in open defiance of a duly authorized congressional subpoena with no assertion of any privilege of any kind” by Trump. If Democrats follow through on Cummings’ plans, Kline would become the first Trump administration official to be held in contempt of Congress.
If Democrats follow through on Cummings’ plans, Kline would become the first Trump administration official to be held in contempt of Congress.
The move could allow congressional leaders to seek criminal charges against him, or refer his refusal to comply with a subpoena to the Justice Department for prosecution, depending on the nature of the contempt citation. Being found in contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor subject to a $1000 fine and year-long imprisonment.
Kline’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, said his client takes the committee’s concerns “seriously”, but questions the “validity” of the subpoenas.
"My client and I take seriously the concerns of the Committee and the Chair,” Driscoll told ABC News in a statement. “We also take seriously the direction of the White House not to attend today's hearing and the opinion, expressed by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, about the validity if the Committee's subpoenas given the restriction placed by the Committee. Chairman Cummings is zealously playing the role he should in our constitutional system and we bear no ill will towards him. We will continue to review the proceedings and make the best judgments we can."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
While Republicans have repeatedly threatened to rebuke top Trump administration Justice Department officials in a standoff over Russia-probe related documents and information, they never proceeded to officially do so on the floor. Kline, the former White House personnel security director who now works at the Defense Department, was accused by a whistleblower of granting high-level security clearance to Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law, and other White House officials against the recommendations of administration security specialists.
According to Driscoll, Kline was instructed “not to appear” before the committee this week by the White House, despite the subpoena from Cummings.
“With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him,” Driscoll wrote in a letter to the committee Monday evening obtained by ABC News.
Cummings on Tuesday blasted the White House’s position, accusing them of not producing “a single piece of paper” or witness to the House for any of the committee’s investigations this year.
“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,” the chairman said. A spokesperson for Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Republican on the panel, said Kline had offered to appear voluntarily and accused Cummings of working to discredit the White House.