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House panel subpoenas on White House security clearances, 2020 census

The panel had earlier voted along party lines to subpoena the testimony of the former White House personnel security director to discuss the security clearance process.
Image: Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee
“The White House needs to understand that they can’t stonewall this committee for months,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Tuesday.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday issued four subpoenas related to the White House security clearance process and on the process that led to the administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

Earlier in the day, the Democratic-led panel voted to pass to authorize one subpoena concerning the security clearance process and three related to the citizenship question.

The panel, led by Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., voted along party lines 22-15 on a resolution to subpoena the testimony of former White House personnel security director Carl Kline to discuss the security clearance process at the White House.

The vote sets up a confrontation with the White House, with primary targets for the Democratic-led probe including the president's daughter Ivanka Trump and his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Cummings has also raised concerns about national security adviser John Bolton and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Cummings revealed Monday that a White House whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, had told Republican and Democratic committee staffers that 25 denials for security clearances had been overturned during the Trump administration.

Before the votes Tuesday, Cummings said that Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process, raised concerns within the White House and in response was targeted for retaliation.

“Yet despite these risks, she has agreed to identify herself publicly,” Cummings said. “Tricia Newbold came forward at great personal risk to warn the Congress and the nation about the grave security risk she has been witnessing first-hand over the past two years.”

Cummings argued Tuesday that a subpoena to seek Kline’s testimony was necessary following his decision to decline the panel's January request for an interview, and failure to respond to the committee's follow-up letters.

He added that Kline and the White House had reached out only after the whistleblower’s story was disclosed Monday to say that Kline would “voluntarily comply” — but that he would not answer questions about specific officials, specific security violations and specific security clearance adjudications.

“The White House needs to understand that they can’t stonewall this committee for months,” Cummings said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., while speaking in favor of the resolution to subpoena Kline, mocked Kushner, who reportedly used the WhatsApp messaging app to communicate informally with the Saudi crown prince.

"What's next, putting nuclear codes in Instagram DMs?" Ocasio-Cortez said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, blasted Democrats for the process that led to the Newbold interview. “I almost don’t know where to start,” Jordan, ranking member on the panel, said in his opening statement.

Jordan slammed Cummings for scheduling the interview with Newbold “10 days ago on a Saturday,” with minimal notice, and criticized Cummings for a press release about Newbold on Monday in which he said the chairman “cherry-picked” her statements.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters Tuesday ahead of the Oversight meeting that Democrats were “deeply concerned that the president may have been countermanding with the intelligence professionals ... in terms of people who had conflicts of interest or who might be subject to compromise.”

“Those are serious decisions that are made by the security professionals. They’re not something to be willy-nilly overturned by the president because he wants to give a family member a clearance or for some other improper purpose,” he said.

Separately, the Oversight Committee also adopted a resolution 23-14 to issue a subpoena to Attorney General William Barr demanding all 2017 documents, both from within the Department of Justice and with outside entities, regarding the administration's request to add a citizenship question to the census.

That list includes a memo from James Uthmeier, who served as an attorney to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, to John Gore, deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017.

The resolution also authorizes Cummings to subpoena Ross for documents related to the citizenship question.

"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 requests for records,” Ross said in a statement after the vote Tuesday. “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.”

On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that the 2020 census would be useless unless it included the controversial question.

"Can you believe that the Radical Left Democrats want to do our new and very important Census Report without the all important Citizenship Question," Trump wrote. "Report would be meaningless and a waste of the $Billions (ridiculous) that it costs to put together!"

The committee's decision to issue the subpoenas comes a day before the House Judiciary Committee is to vote to authorize subpoenas for special counsel Robert Mueller's full and complete Russia report and its underlying evidence and documents.