WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The former head of White House security clearances told congressional investigators on Wednesday he was never instructed to change a security clearance determination by anyone at the White House, a source familiar with his closed-door interview said.
Carl Kline spoke with investigators after days of conflict over whether he would appear. He told them all security clearance decisions were made by career professionals and he was never asked by anyone in the White House or Oval Office to do his job differently, the source said.
Kline’s appearance before investigators of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee came as the panel is looking into the issuance of high-level security clearances to some staffers in the Trump White House, despite recommendations from career officials that those officials should not receive them.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were among the two dozen or so staffers who got those clearances, said two congressional sources familiar with the matter. Kline was in charge of White House clearances at the time.
Kline has since left the White House and is now a Defense Department employee.
The committee voted on April 2 to subpoena Kline, compelling him to appear to testify on the matter. The Trump administration initially told Kline to ignore the subpoena. Last week, Trump told reporters: “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.”
After Republican committee member Jim Jordan intervened, the Democratic chairman of the panel, Elijah Cummings, said three days ago he was putting off holding Kline in contempt of Congress after an agreement was reached permitting him to meet with investigators.
The clearances investigation was triggered earlier this year by a whistleblower. It is one of multiple probes being pursued by House Democrats into Trump, his presidency and his businesses. Some of the inquiries are expected to run into the 2020 presidential election season.
Before the Wednesday meeting, a White House lawyer said that Kline would talk with the committee, but was not authorized to discuss individual clearances. In a letter to Cummings, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said Kline had agreed to appear for a closed-door committee interview, despite the subpoena.
Cipollone indicated in the letter that Kline would likely decline to answer questions from the Democratic-controlled House panel about clearances issued to specific individuals.
“No employee of the executive branch is or has been authorized to disclose to the committee information about individual security clearance files or background investigations,” Cipollone said in the letter.
Cummings sought testimony from Kline after Tricia Newbold, a career White House security official, alleged that clearances initially were denied to at least two dozen Trump administration officials over concerns about possible foreign influence, conflicts of interest, questionable or criminal conduct, financial problems or drug abuse.
In a letter to the White House last month, Cummings referred to three unnamed “senior White House officials” whose clearance histories were addressed in some detail by Newbold.
Information obtained by the committee said two of those three senior officials were Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
The White House has declined to comment on issues related to the couple’s clearances.
Cipollone said there are no legitimate grounds or precedents for sharing individual security clearance records with Congress.
“It has long been recognized on both sides of the political aisle that there is no legitimate need for access to such sensitive information about individuals,” he told Cummings.
Cummings condemned the White House’s stance, saying Cipollone’s letter “ignores past precedent when the committee obtained security clearance documents, it disregards previous testimony … from White House officials in the past, and it makes the startling and false claim that Congress has no right to obtain information from whistleblowers.”
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, David Gregorio and Lisa ShumakerOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.