White House withholds docs on clearances as ex-security chief testifies

By Kathryn Watson

/ CBS News

Subpoena war between White House and Congress

A former White House official who oversaw the security clearance process failed to answer a number of questions posed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, according to a Democratic member of the committee. The claim of stonewalling comes after the White House denied the committee's request for documents in its investigation of the security clearance process following a whistleblower's complaints.

Carl Kline, the former director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, testified behind closed doors while most of Washington's attention was focused on Attorney General William Barr's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, said Kline declined to answer specific questions at the direction of the White House. The Democratic congressman said he was not satisfied with Kline's responses.

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"I am not happy, since the White House is basically instructing the witness not to answer questions that are very pertinent to our inquiries … We need to know about specific cases, specific individuals, and there seems to be some kind of blanket assertion that is not lodged in executive privilege or any kind of a recognizable basis for not answering questions," Krishnamoorthi said. "And so today's a voluntary interview, but I suspect we're going to be disputing this after today."

Krishnamoorthi told reporters Kline will have to answer questions "one way or another."

"There's no valid legitimate basis for not answering these questions, and they're not even able to articulate one," he continued, referring to the White House. "They just throw out words that have no connection to the subject matter at hand … But at the end of the day our subpoenas will have to be vindicated."

Earlier in the day, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to chairman Elijah Cummings declining the committee's request for a number of documents related to the issuance of security clearances. Cummings had threatened to hold Kline in contempt of Congress when Kline skipped a previously scheduled hearing.

Kline was subpoenaed by the committee as it investigates the White House's handling of the security clearance process. Current White House employee and whistleblower Tricia Newbold expressed concern that the White House approved security clearances for 25 officials against the personnel office's recommendations. Newbold maintains she was retaliated against because she spoke out.

Democrats in Congress have been raising concerns about the White House's security clearances for months, particularly in light of allegations last year that then-White House aide Rob Porter abused his ex-wives. Porter left the White House, but the incident put the system under a new level of scrutiny.

Kimberly Brown contributed to this report.

First published on May 1, 2019 / 4:36 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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