One of the top House Democratic investigators accused President Donald Trump’s White House on Tuesday of engaging in “an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction.”
House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that, despite sending a dozen letters to administration officials, the White House has not complied with the committee’s oversight probes, or made any employees available for interviews.
Cummings has sent the letters to administration officials on a half-dozen topics, including some inquiring whether Trump overrode the advice of career FBI officials to help his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, obtain top clearances.
“Let me underscore that point: The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress,” Cummings wrote.
One White House official pushed back on Cummings’ comments about the administration’s compliance, saying that it has provided documents relating to the security clearance process to Cummings’ staff for review.
“We are currently scheduling a briefing for the Committee members and staff by the Chief Security Officer to further clarify the process,” the official said. “Those are the facts, and any statements to the contrary are misleading at best.”
Cummings did say in the op-ed that staff was allowed to read some documents.
“The White House offered to let us read — but not keep — a few pages of policy documents that have nothing to do with the officials we are investigating, along with a general briefing on those policies during which they will answer no questions about specific employees,” Cummings wrote.
In addition to the security clearance issue, Cummings’ committee is probing Trump’s alleged scheme during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two of his former mistresses, Playboy model Karen McDougal and pornographic actress Stormy Daniels.
In February, the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen provided Cummings’ committee with two checks signed by Trump. Cohen said they were intended to reimburse him after he used his own money to pay off Daniels and McDougal.
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On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan unsealed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s warrants from 2017 and 2018 that allowed the FBI to raid Cohen’s properties.
The documents contained a redacted 18-page section titled “Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme,” an indication that the hush payment investigation is still ongoing.
The White House also failed to provide information or interviews for its other investigations, Cummings said.
Those probes include allegations that Ivanka Trump and other White House officials’ used personal email for government business; the president attempted to destroy documents and silence translators from face-to-face conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and an alleged scheme by Kushner and others to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has argued in past letters to House investigators that their requests exceed the Constitutional limits on Congress’ oversight authority.
Cipillone argued in a January letter that conversations between the president and his staff about the national security clearance policy fall under the umbrella of information shielded by executive privilege.
Presidents can assert executive privilege to shield certain confidential communications from compelled disclosure so advisers can feel comfortable delivering candid advice on potentially explosive issues.
“We do wish to reach a reasonable accommodation so that we can provide your Committee with information, but we can only do so in a manner that will allow this President, and future Presidents, to remain faithful to their constitutional role,” Cipillone wrote.
Congressional and Justice Department investigators can take subpoenas and document requests to the D.C. Circuit Court to compel disclosure, if they believe such conversations and documents are in the public interest.
The court has historically sided with investigators over the president, and past administrations have compromised with investigators on document disclosure and witness interviews.
Cipillone argued that Cummings’ committee has been unyielding in seeking “unilateral concessions without any offer of accommodation on its part.”
Cummings does not see it that way.
The White House’s refusal to hand over documents violates the “fundamental principle of checks and balances,” Cummings wrote.
“If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt about why,” Cummings wrote. “This has nothing to do with presidential harassment and everything to do with unprecedented obstruction.”
John Bennett contributed to this report.
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