The White House is refusing to hand the House Oversight Committee documents that the panel has requested in its probe into the administration's security clearance process, including for President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The committee chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., blasted the White House on Tuesday for asserting that his panel has not properly justified its requests for documents in investigating the matter, setting up a possible subpoena battle.
"There is a key difference between a president who exercises his authority under the Constitution and a president who overrules career experts and his top advisers to benefit his family members and then conceals his actions from the American people," Cummings said in a statement.
"The White House’s argument defies the Constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this Committee, and just plain common-sense," Cummings wrote. "The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform. I will be consulting with Members of the Committee to determine our next steps.”
In a letter to Cummings on Monday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone slammed what he called the committee's "overly intrusive" requests and told Cummings that the panel had not "cited any legal authority" or provided a "constitutional or statutory basis" for its inquiry.
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"Although we are prepared to continue negotiations in good faith, the Committee seeks unilateral concessions without any offer of accommodation on its part, and then complains that the White House has refused to simply tum over everything the Committee inappropriately seeks," Cipollone wrote.
"These actions suggest that the Committee is not interested in proper oversight, but rather seeks information that it knows cannot be provided consistent with applicable law," his letter continued. "We will not concede the Executive's constitutional prerogatives or allow the Committee to jeopardize the individual privacy rights of current and former Executive Branch employees."
Cummings announced in late January that his committee would probe the security clearance process after reports that more than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including Kushner and his wife, the president's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, among other top White House aides.
Kushner's clearance was downgraded in February of last year after reports surfaced that he failed to submit necessary information on his financial disclosure forms. He regained full clearance a few months later, however, despite the concerns of security officials and then-White House counsel Donald McGahn.
The president overruled those concerns and ordered the top-secret security clearance be given to his son-in-law, The New York Times reported last week. The newspaper, citing four people briefed on the matter, said Trump ordered John Kelly, then his chief of staff, to give Kushner a top-secret security clearance in May 2018, upsetting some senior administration officials and leading Kelly and McGahn to write internal memos about the incident.
Trump told the Times in January, however, that he had no role in his son-in-law getting the clearance. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said that when the clearance was granted last year, Kushner's application went through the standard process, the newspaper reported. Lowell did not comment to NBC News for its January report.
Citing the Times' report from last week, Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Don Beyer, D-Va., sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday calling on him to open an investigation into the security clearance process for Kushner.
When asked about it on Tuesday, Trump instead criticized the House Judiciary Committee's just-announced probe into potential constitutional abuses and public corruption. Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced Monday that his panel was issuing a sweeping request for documents to the president’s family, businesses and administration.
"The witch hunt continues," Trump said. "The fact is that I guess we got 81 letters. There was no collusion. That was a hoax. There was no anything."
"It's a disgrace to our country," Trump added. "I'm not surprised that it's happening. Basically, they've started the campaign. So the campaign begins."