WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump is doubling down on his legal confrontations with Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Hours after his Treasury secretary again put off a House committee’s demand for the president’s tax returns, and as another panel was considering a contempt charge for a former White House aide for refusing to testify, Trump said in an interview that he was against having past and present administration officials taking part in various congressional inquiries.
He told The Washington Post that any further testimony is not necessary after the White House cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress, where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan,” Trump said in an interview with the Post that was published Tuesday night.
Since regaining control of the House in last fall’s elections, Democrats have begun multiple investigations related to Trump and those around him. Democrats say those efforts will only intensify following last week’s release of a redacted version of Mueller’s report.
Earlier Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again declined to release Trump’s tax documents, arguing that Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, despite their stated objective, aimed to expose the president’s personal and business financial records to the public. He said he would give a final response by May 6.
And the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Chairman Elijah Cummings said he intended to “consult with House counsel and committee members about scheduling a vote on contempt” after Trump administration lawyers convinced Carl Kline, the former director of White House personnel security, not to testify about granting security clearances.
Kline had received a subpoena for a closed hearing after a longtime employee in the security clearance office, Tricia Newbold, told lawmakers that she and other colleagues had denied 25 applications for clearances only to see them overturned by supervisors.
“I hope that Mr. Kline, in close consultation with his personal attorney, will carefully review his legal obligations, reconsider his refusal to appear, and begin cooperating with the committee’s investigation,” Cummings said in a statement Tuesday.
Cummings’ committee has been scrutinizing how a number of senior aides, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton, obtained their clearances.
Separately, the House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel, who gave extensive testimony to Mueller’s investigators. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, responding to reports that the White House would try to prevent McGahn from appearing, said in a statement that “the reports, if accurate, represent one more act of obstruction by an administration desperate to prevent the public from talking about the president’s behavior.”
Since the White House urged Kline not to testify, Cummings said, “It appears that the president believes that the Constitution does not apply to his White House, that he may order officials at will to violate their legal obligations, and that he may obstruct attempts by Congress to conduct oversight.”
Kline now works at the Defense Department.
His lawyer, Robert Driscoll, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Driscoll received a letter Monday from White House deputy counsel Michael Purpura stating that the Oversight Committee denied a request to have a White House lawyer accompany Kline at the deposition.
“Consistent with the position of past administrations, if the committee goes forward with the deposition, a representative from the Office of Counsel to the President should attend and represent the interests of the Executive Office of the President,” Purpura wrote to Driscoll. Purpura said those interests include “protection of privileged information.”
Purpura wrote that by denying that request, the subpoena for Kline to appear “unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests.”
Driscoll told Cummings Monday that his client would not show. “With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him,” Driscoll wrote, in a reference to Kline’s ongoing employment at the Defense Department.
Cummings, in his statement, dismissed the efforts to cast Kline “as caught in the middle of a dispute between the committee and the White House.” He pointed out that Kline faces accusations of retaliation “against a whistleblower who reported serious allegations of abuse to Congress.”
“Mr. Kline has a direct and personal legal obligation to comply with this subpoena, and he failed to do so,” Cummings said.
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