The White House would like to be in the room when Congressional investigators grill Carl Kline, the official who green-lit Jared Kushner’s security clearance, according to a letter from that official’s lawyer.
The letter, which The Daily Beast obtained, describes a conflict between Capital Hill and 1600 Pennsylvania. At issue is an investigation of the security clearance process run by Chairman Elijah Cummings’ Committee on Oversight and Reform. Cummings has subpoenaed Carl Kline, the former head of the White House Presidential Personnel Office who overturned a subordinate’s vetoes of security clearances for multiple White House officials.
Now, Kline is looking to bring an attorney from the White House Counsel’s Office into his interview with Cummings’ staff because of potential executive privilege issues. And, per the letter, the White House wants to be there as well. But lawyers for the committee, per the letter, do not want a White House presence in the room when they question Kline. So there’s an impasse.
“There is a continuing constitutional dispute between the Committee and the White House over both the scope of appropriate questions, and now a seeming conflict over whether the Committee may exclude White House counsel from the deposition,” wrote Bob Driscoll of McGlinchey and Stafford, who represents Carl Kline, the official in question. “I am doing my best to manage everyone’s concerns, but again– we have no ability nor authority to resolve this dispute, leaving us caught in the crossfire.”
Spokespersons for the committee did not respond to a request for comment on the letter. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
The dispute is part of one of the first blockbuster fights between Capitol Hill and the White House. At issue is a Congressional effort to learn how Kushner and at least two dozen other people working in the White House got security clearances, and whether that process has problems that threaten national security. Tricia Newbold, a White House security specialist and career government official, told Congress last month that at least 25 White House employees received security clearances despite the opposition of career officials. Those officials’ concerns, according to a letter from committee staff summarizing their interview with Newbold, included “a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.”
Newbold said her supervisor, Carl Kline, overturned efforts to block those officials from receiving clearances. And she said the decision to let them receive access to classified material was made “without proper analysis, documentation, or a full understanding and acceptance of the risks.”
According to The Washington Post, Kushner was one of the officials who received a clearance over those objections.
Cummings has subpoenaed Kline, who has also spent his career in government. Driscoll, Kline’s lawyer, told The Daily Beast his client would like to have White House lawyers present for his interview with Cummings’ staff because of executive privilege issues. Driscoll’s letter indicates that Cummings’ staff opposes any White House presence in the talk.
“From an academic perspective, this constitutional dispute between the branches is fascinating,” he told The Daily Beast. “From an actual lawyer’s perspective, though, it has nothing to do with my client, Mr. Kline.”
Driscoll is a veteran of some of Congress’s most contentious oversight battles, and represented clients involved in investigations into Fast and Furious and the firing of U.S. Attorneys during the Bush administration. He also represents Maria Butina, the Russian national who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent in relation to her efforts to cultivate relationships with American gun rights activists.