By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House will let a congressional committee interview a former staffer about security clearances, according to media reports, after a top U.S. House Republican sought to defuse tensions between House Democrats and the Trump administration.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan, a leader of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus better known for stoking than soothing partisan frictions, on Friday urged the White House to let Carl Kline appear for a voluntary interview on April 30 or May 1, according to two sources who saw a letter from Jordan.
Kline was formerly White House personnel security director. The House of Representatives Oversight Committee is probing allegations that the administration inappropriately granted security clearances to some Trump advisers.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone responded to Jordan, saying on Friday that Kline “is available to appear for an interview on Wednesday, May 1,” with the committee, according to media reports.
“We understand the scope of the interview will be limited to White House personnel security policies and practices, consistent with our prior offers for Mr. Kline’s voluntary cooperation with the Committee,” Cipollone said in the letter, according to the reports.
The White House and Jordan did not immediately respond to requests for comment, neither did the committee’s chairman, Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings.
The approach by Jordan was the first signal since the release last week of the Mueller report that House Republicans, until now supportive of Trump’s stonewalling of investigations led by Democrats, might be willing to cooperate with Democrats on probes into national security issues.
Among recipients of the security clearances at issue, said congressional sources who asked not to be named, were Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. Both allegedly got high-level clearances, despite recommendations from career security officials against it.
The oversight committee has subpoenaed Kline, seeking his testimony. In a dispute over the terms of his appearance before the committee, the White House advised Kline to ignore the subpoena. The committee has responded by moving to hold Kline in contempt of Congress, possibly followed by legal action.
Jordan is the top Republican on the oversight committee. Two congressional sources told Reuters that Jordan in a letter to Cipollone on Friday encouraged the White House to let Kline appear next week for a voluntary interview before the committee.
Jordan urged the White House “to avoid unnecessary conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch and to deescalate Chairman Cummings’s orchestrated inter-branch confrontation.”
Jordan warned that Cummings might proceed with contempt of Congress proceedings against Kline as early as next week.
Cummings launched the investigation after Tricia Newbold, a career security official at the White House, disclosed that the administration overruled experts to give questionable security clearances to more than two dozen people.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Michael Perry)