Tuesday 19 March 2019

Trump refuses to co-operate with Congress Kushner probe

Refusal: US President Donald Trump meets Danny Burch, a former US hostage in Yemen, in the White House yesterday. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images
Refusal: US President Donald Trump meets Danny Burch, a former US hostage in Yemen, in the White House yesterday. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Clark Mindock

Donald Trump has rebuffed efforts by Democrats in Congress to obtain files relating to his son-in-law's White House security clearance, calling the probes into his campaign and administration a "witch hunt" and a "shame" for the United States.

The comments came as House oversight committee chairman Elijah Cummings said he and his colleagues would consider their "next steps" after the White House refused to hand over documents related to Jared Kushner's security clearance.

Jared Kushner: Trump's son-in-law and adviser got security clearance. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Jared Kushner: Trump's son-in-law and adviser got security clearance. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Mr Cummings had requested the documents after reports indicated Mr Trump had himself ordered his former chief of staff to grant Mr Kushner a security clearance in spite of concerns from US intelligence agents.

Mr Kushner is the president's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser. Since taking a position in the West Wing, he has been tasked with an ambitious set of projects including negotiating peace in the Middle East and working on criminal justice reform in the US.

"There is a key difference between a president who exercises his authority under the Constitution and a president who overrules career experts and his top advisers to benefit his family members and then conceals his actions from the American people," Mr Cummings wrote after the White House baulked at his committee's request.

"The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform. I will be consulting with members of the committee to determine our next steps," he added.

The White House response makes it likely that Democrats will subpoena the files, setting up a potential legal fight between the West Wing and Congress.

The House judiciary committee has also launched an investigation, with more than 80 organisations or individuals connected to the president or his campaign receiving letters requesting documents.

Mr Trump, when asked about the investigation into Mr Kushner's security clearance, said the investigations were an attempt to divert attention from legislating.

"The witch hunt continues," he said.

Typically used to setting the national or global agenda, presidents are by definition on their back foot when they come under investigation. And the latest fusillade of requests for information has the Trump White House, already increasingly focused on the twin challenges of dealing with the probes and the 2020 election, in a reactive position.

Mr Trump's response points to his increasing frustration with Congress and his intention to seize on the investigations as evidence he is under siege. While Mr Trump is far from the first president to bristle at Capitol Hill oversight, his enthusiastic embrace of political victimhood is still novel - and stands to serve as a key part of his re-election argument. Mr Trump has made railing against the so-called witch hunt against him a staple of his rallies and speeches, revving up crowds by mocking his investigators and news coverage of their proceedings.

That attitude was emphasised by Mr Trump's son Eric, who was among 81 people and organisations the House judiciary committee has contacted as part of its probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.

Calling Congress "incompetent", Eric Trump said: "We're going to fight the hell out of it. And we'll fight where we need and we'll co-operate where we need, but the desperation shows."

Aware that the shift to divided government would usher in an onslaught of investigations, the White House began defensive moves late last year. Seeking to be ready for the Democratic-led House, more than a dozen lawyers were added to the White House counsel's office and a seasoned attorney was added to the communications team to handle questions related to the probes.

After Democrats took the House last November, Mr Trump declared they had to choose between investigating him and earning White House co-operation on matters of concern like health care and infrastructure. Mr Trump assessed publicly this week that Democrats had made their choice, saying: "So the campaign begins."

His aides had already made that determination, with press secretary Sarah Sanders issuing a statement calling the judiciary committee probe an "abusive investigation".

(© The Independent, London)

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