The White House on Wednesday rejected the House Oversight Committee’s request for documents relating to the security clearances of several high-profile White House officials, setting up the latest standoff with House Democrats.
The White House rebuffed the committee’s request for the documents in a nine-page letter obtained by CNN, citing precedent for protecting sensitive background information and arguing that the committee is “harassing and seeking to punish political opponents” and endangering the privacy of current and former White House officials.
“It is highly improper for the Committee to induce or encourage the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information in order to launch public political attacks on individuals as part of advancing a partisan political agenda,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone writes in the letter. “Harassing and seeking to punish political opponents based on their political beliefs is not a valid exercise of Congress’s investigative powers.”
Over the course of the nine-page letter, Cipollone accuses the committee of “gross breaches of privacy principles,” attempting to “intimidate” White House officials and carrying out an investigation with “no valid legislative purpose.”
The letter is a response to the House Oversight Committee’s April 1 request for information relating to the security clearance applications and adjudications of nine current and former White House officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
The committee requested the documents after a White House whistleblower alleged that several senior White House officials’ security clearances were approved only after initial denials stemming from serious concerns had been overruled by a superior.
That superior, former White House personnel security director Carl Kline, is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday after a weeks-long feud over his testimony that included a subpoena and threat to hold him in contempt.
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings slammed the White House’s refusal as “the latest example of the President’s widespread and growing obstruction of Congress” and said it raises “grave concerns about what they are trying to hide – and why.”
“The American people do not want a king in the White House – they want a President who adheres to the Constitution, who follows the law, and who recognizes Congress’ legitimate role as a check and balance on the Executive Branch,” Cummings said in a statement. “The lengths to which President Trump and his aides are going to keep this information from Congress raise grave concerns about what they are trying to hide – and why. The Committee will consider its next step after consulting carefully with our Members.”
The White House’s letter threatens to set off another standoff between the legislative and executive branches, and it fits a pattern of the White House painting House oversight requests as a mere partisan, political endeavor. Last week, President Donald Trump vowed to fight “all the subpoenas” from House Democrats, arguing that their oversight requests were purely about the 2020 presidential election.
“These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020,” Trump said. “The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense, but they should be really focused on legislation, not the things that have been.”
In refusing the documents request, the White House argued that its denial was in line with the positions of previous administrations and cited House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings’ support for 1996 legislation that would ensure “FBI records containing sensitive background security information provided to the White House are properly protected for privacy and security.”’
“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. In fact, there was a time when you agreed with and vigorously defended the very position the Administration is taking now,” Cipollone writes. “There was a time when you agreed with and vigorously defended the very position the Administration is taking now.”
The White House also cited President Bill Clinton’s special counsel Lloyd Cutler, who it says responded to requests for information about the White House security clearance process with “under no circumstances would we permit review of individual background investigations or any other information that would violate the legitimate privacy interests of White House personnel.”
The House Oversight Committee, in its April 1 request, cited precedent for the White House to deliver the documents it was requesting, noting that the Clinton White House in 1996 had provided the House Oversight Committee with “the entire FBI background investigation file of former White House Travel Office Director Billy Dale and other documents and information about the White House’s background investigation process.”
A White House official noted that the White House has “already provided the Committee with detailed information regarding the security clearance process, holding briefings and making documents available on the process.” A White House deputy counsel and head of the White House personnel security office briefed the committee on the security clearance process on April 11 and March 20, respectively, according to the White House.
“The Committee on the other hand has not provided a single accommodation acknowledging the confidentiality concerns,” the official said.