WASHINGTON — Top House investigators are demanding that the White House turn over documents related to its security clearances process by Monday, an escalation of the yearslong fight between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration that could lead to subpoenas in the coming days.

The move follows an explosive report that President Trump interceded to give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance despite concerns from top intelligence officials. The president directed his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, to approve the application – a move Kelly, who had expressed concerns about the entire process, later detailed in a memo.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a letter to the White House on Friday, urged “full and immediate compliance” with outstanding requests the panel had made related to security clearances for much of the past two years.

“I am now writing a final time to request your voluntary cooperation with this investigation,” Cummings said in the letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

While Cummings did not use the word subpoena in his letter, his recent correspondence with the White House suggested he is open to one: Cummings told the White House in early February to let the committee know “whether you intend to comply voluntarily or whether the committee should consider alternative means to obtain this information.”

The White House still has not given the panel documents, arguing instead that the president traditionally has broad authority over his executive staff and clearance matters.


Cummings’ frustration with the lack of response was clear in his letter Friday.

“Since I sent my letter on January 23, I have been negotiating in good faith – and in private – to try to obtain the information the Committee needs to conduct its investigation,” Cummings wrote. “However, over the past five weeks, the White House has stalled, equivocated, and failed to produce a single document or witness to the Committee.”

Cummings’ Friday letter cited reports that Kushner, a senior White House adviser, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, pressured the president to grant Kushner a long-delayed clearance and that Trump instructed Kelly to fix the problem early last year. Trump’s push to get Kushner clearance – and the chief of staff’s concerns about it – was first reported by The New York Times, which also reported that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn had concerns about Kushner’s clearance. The Washington Post later reported on Trump’s actions.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, weighed in on the controversy Friday.

“I have not read the story, but I am aware of the fact that there is dispute over whether certain members of the president’s family and staff should have received the highest level security clearances, and that’s a very important issue,” Collins told reporters in Portland. “That’s why I’ve teamed up with Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia … to introduce a bill to revise the process for security clearances.

She added that “it’s important for our nation’s security that only those who qualify for the top secret clearances receive them.


Both Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump have publicly denied the president was involved in securing a clearance for Kushner. The president told The New York Times in a Jan. 31 interview that he did not direct Kelly or similar officials to grant a clearance for his son-in-law, and Ivanka Trump told ABC News earlier this month that her father was not involved in the process.

In the first year of the administration, Kushner held an interim security clearance that allowed him to view both top-secret and sensitive compartmented information, which is classified intelligence related to sensitive sources. With that designation, he has been able to attend classified briefings, get access to the president’s daily intelligence report and issue requests for information to the intelligence community.

But there was widespread concern in the White House about Kushner’s lack of a permanent clearance. Indeed, Democrats on Capitol Hill are also now questioning why Kushner had such trouble attaining that status.

“These new reports raise grave questions about what derogatory information career officials obtained about Mr. Kushner to recommend denying him access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets, why President Trump concealed his role in overruling that recommendation, and why General Kelly and Mr. McGahn both felt compelled to document these actions, and why your office is continuing to withhold key documents and witnesses from this committee,” Cummings wrote Friday.

The White House security clearance process has been a major focus for Oversight Committee Democrats over the past two years. Cummings even garnered bipartisan support for his bid to investigate the matter in the wake of reports that Rob Porter, a former White House aide who had been accused of beating his ex-wife, had been denied a clearance but still worked in a top position.

At the time, Republicans controlled the House, and then-Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., joined Cummings in requesting more information about the process. When the White House ignored the requests, however, Gowdy refused Cummings’ pleas to subpoena the information.


Now, with Democrats in charge of the House – and Cummings wielding expansive subpoena authority – the White House won’t be able to ignore Congress’ questions without the potential for an adverse response. Already, there has been an intense back-and-forth between the panel and the White House, as Cummings relaunches his own security clearance investigation and increases the pressure on the administration for answers.

In his Jan. 23 letter to Cipollone, the lawmaker asked for a series of documents to be handed over to the panel, including the policies governing how the White House grants security clearances and any recent changes made to the policy, particularly those to give classified information to people convicted of crimes or under investigation by law enforcement.

The panel also asked for all communications between Trump’s transition team regarding background investigations, clearance applications and the outcomes for nearly 10 top officials they wanted to hone in on. That list includes Kushner as well as national security adviser John Bolton, his predecessor Michael Flynn and his son, and Sebastian Gorka.

But the White House has pushed back on the Oversight request, arguing that authority over the security clearance application process pales in comparison to the president’s.

“Congress, as well as the federal courts, have long recognized that the president enjoys broad discretion in selecting, and communicating with, his immediate advisers,” Cipollone wrote to Cummings on Jan. 31. “In view of the president’s paramount constitutional authority in these areas, congressional action must necessarily be circumscribed.”

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

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