Former White House personnel security director Carl Kline took responsibility for a security clearance process criticized for overruling multiple recommended denials for senior government officials, according to members of Congress who privately interviewed Kline on Wednesday.
“He’s basically trying to say that the buck pretty much stopped with him,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. “There’s much more information that we need to dig into.”
Tricia Newbold, whom Democrats describe as a whistleblower, has accused Kline of approving security clearances for White House officials despite recommended denials, including for the President’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. In 2018, Trump reportedly directed his then-chief of staff John Kelly to give Kushner a top-secret security clearance.
But Republicans said that Kline’s testimony made clear that he was not improperly influenced and protected the national security of the country.
“He told us that he made every decision about security clearances,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio. “It wasn’t the President. It wasn’t the White House chief of staff.”
“I think the bottom line is that our national security interests were secure under Mr. Kline,” added Rep. Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina.
Members of the House Oversight Committee privately interviewed Kline after a weeks-long feud over his testimony that included a congressional subpoena and threat to hold him in contempt. The White House ultimately allowed Kline to testify with lawyers present, but rejected the panel’s request for certain documents.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat of Massachusetts, gave credit to Kline for being “open” about the security clearance process, including how many instances of derogatory information that Kline received from applicants. But Lynch said that Kline’s attorneys objected to direct questions regarding specific individuals, including Kushner.
“We’re going to fight over these because they’ve objected to some of the questions,” Lynch said. “We received derogatory information regarding those individuals.”
Kline left the day-long interview without commenting to reporters.
Newbold attorney Ed Passman told CNN, “My client believes in the transparency of accountability within our government. … We remain confident in the US governing processes and we are hopeful all parties will set aside their personal interests and place the best interest of national security first.”
Cummings said that Democratic congressmen who favor continuing various investigations rather than opening a presidential impeachment inquiry have become “very impatient” by the executive branch’s stonewalling.
“They don’t mind investigating, but when they find that they have nothing to investigate because we can’t get any information they say ‘what? Why bother,’ ” Cummings said. “I don’t know what the White House is trying to push or pressure us into.”
Cummings added that Congress needs to “stop giving away our power and stop giving away our responsibilities and giving them to the President.”
“We have to use every tool we have in the tool box,” he added. “Whether that is impeachment, whether that is inherent contempt, I don’t know.”
CNN’s Alex Marquardt contributed to this report.