Former White House personnel security director Carl Kline was subpoenaed to appear on Tuesday for questioning by the House Oversight Committee. However, the White House has issued a letter to Kline ordering him not to show up. Kline’s attorney has written to Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings to say that Kline will follow the order from Trump and refuse to appear.
The move to block congressional investigations into how security clearances were handed out at the White House is the latest effort by Donald Trump to assert the power to ignore both Congress and the law. Not only has Trump instructed Treasury Department chief Steven Mnuchin to ignore a legal request for his tax records, but he has also filed an entirely unprecedented lawsuit against a congressional committee to halt the release of his financial records,
As the Washington Post reports, Cummings issued a subpoena for Kline to appear earlier in April after ongoing reports that the Trump White House had regularly ignored the recommendations of security experts and extended top-secret security clearances to members of Trump’s staff—including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—despite their known risks and repeated failures to disclose conflicts.
Kline’s attorney wrote that he was declining to appear because he had instructions from “two masters from two equal branches of government” and that Kline would “follow the instructions of the one that employs him.” There are at least two big issues with that. First, Kline no longer works at the White House. Second, the subpoena from Congress was a subpoena, not a request. There is no such thing as an executive un-poena—nothing that Trump or anyone on his staff can say or do has any legal bearing on Kline’s duty to appear in response to a congressional subpoena.
But not only is there a big problem with Kline’s reaction, but there’s an equal issue with the way the Post is reporting the story. The headline for the article indicates “White House instructs official to ignore Democratic subpoena.” Except this isn’t a “Democratic subpoena.” There is no such thing as a Democratic subpoena. This is a lawfully issued congressional subpoena on a matter of national security. By reducing this to a political squabble, the Post report isn’t just playing into the idea that this is a tit-for-tat battle between political parties—it’s overlooking a genuine threat to the nation.
It appears that Chairman Cummings is not going to allow this to stand.
This isn’t an interparty squabble or a tug of war between “two equal branches.” This is the White House illegally thwarting Congress in its constitutional oversight responsibilities. By reporting it as it did, the Post is downplaying the threat at a point when, post-Mueller report, Trump is increasingly demonstrating that he can, and will, ignore the law.
William Barr has already demonstrated that he genuinely holds Trump above the law and will not act on any evidence, no matter how dire. Mnuchin’s open refusal to hand over Trump’s taxes already represents a blatant disregard for unequivocal, unambiguous law. The lawsuit over Trump’s financial records goes beyond refusal into an open attack on the institutions and the authority of Congress.
But the subpoena for the appearance of Kline isn’t part of an effort to delve into Trump’s personal finances. It’s required oversight of how security is being administered at a time when it appears that highly classified information is being passed by Kushner and others to murderous dictators who have used that information for the oppression, torture, and execution of opponents. Kushner may have also used that information to leverage over a billion dollars in a last-minute bailout of his failing family concern.
Trump’s order to block Kline’s appearance may be petty, or spiteful, or come from his deep well of simple animosity for anyone who challenges his lies. But that doesn’t make it either inconsequential or political. This is a deeply serious issue over what checks, if any, exist on an executive openly acting as an authoritarian ruler. And it deserves to be reported in that context.