On at least two occasions, the White House has pushed back the House oversight committee's efforts to directly contact former officials, reprimanding the powerful committee chair, Elijah Cummings, for failing to contact the White House. first. Their argument: the topics relating to the work of former officials should first be settled with the White House – even if the officials are no longer employees of the federal government.
The former chief of staff, John Kelly, is at the center of one of the disputes. His cooperation is critical to Cummings' investigation into the handling of security checks at the White House, including Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. Cummings staff contacted Kelly directly over the phone several times, which provoked a scathing response from White House lawyer Pat Cipollone.
"Once again, these actions ignore my previous request to the Committee regarding contacts with former or former White House officials," Cipollone wrote to Cummings in a February letter. last, stating that it was "vital" that this communication be first carried out through the White House Council Office. . "Consulting with my office will ensure that the Committee will effectively gain access to information and to whom it is entitled and that any disclosure of privileged information to Congress will be duly authorized."
Cummings told CNN that this decision amounted to "hiding the wall", recalling examples from former federal administrations about which former federal officials had been invited to testify directly in Congress.
"The president's lawyers that they know it's not correct, it's not accurate," Cummings said. "So they are basically walls, that's what it is."
When asked if he had made any progress in getting Kelly to join Capitol Thursday, Cummings said, "Not yet."
"They block us from everything."
This decision is part of a broader White House strategy aimed at preventing Democrats from carrying out their aggressive investigations into the president. These investigations are perceived as a flagrant overreach and an undue effort to obtain privileged communications with the president.
Although they publicly maintain their willingness to cooperate with all requests, White House officials have adopted an aggressive approach internally to monitoring requests. Part of the White House strategy included slow responses to requests for court dates and delayed efforts to hand over documents or schedule transcribed interviews.
Democratic officials said at least 30 instances of administrations had resisted requests for documents during the first three months of the Democrat-controlled House. On Friday, the Trump government missed a Democratic deadline to provide documents on Trump's interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Cipollone regularly organizes meetings in the West Wing to define the response of the administration to individual requests. These meetings, which are usually led by MP Mike Purpura of Cipollone, often have limited attendance because the White House is very vulnerable to leaks. Meetings include little or no communications staff, which has caused friction between the legal team and the public representatives, who have protested against the fact that they are not kept informed, then you do not know what to say to the media.
In his presentations with the president, Cipollone did not hesitate to say how far the democratic demands of the House are, CNN sources said. In the words of an official, "he does not cover it".
A source close to the process said Cipollone had taken a more aggressive approach to congressional demands than his predecessor, Don McGahn. This strategy is evident in his harsh letters to Cummings.
"You have not seen Don McGahn sign letters like this," the source said.
But this change in strategy could be explained by the fact that McGahn felt less obliged to answer to the Democratic legislators whereas they were minority in the last Congress, added a distinct person.
Although Purpura is leading the White House's response to hill demands, sources said Cipollone had been hired, working on the phone to discuss monitoring requests with the people involved and even sitting with Cummings, as he recognized it in a recent letter.
Despite this aggressive approach, a senior White House official explained how the administration had handled Democrat demands to date, claiming that the White House's response was measured against the situation. Cummings approach of circumventing them to interview former officials.
In a telephone conversation with the House's oversight committee earlier this month, committee members said the White House had refused three times to confirm or refute the case. existence of a memo from Kelly on White House security clearances.
House Republicans say that many Democrat demands are offside, particularly with regard to Cummings' request for details on the Security Clearance process at the White House – and concerns voiced privately by Kelly and McGahn about security clearances of Kushner and Ivanka Trump. .
"I'm sure the commander-in-chief has the exclusive power to determine who will get the authorization or not – I'm quite comfortable with that," said Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican to the committee. when asked whether the White House should comply with Cummings' request for security clearances. "I think the President of the United States has the absolute power to determine who gets the authorization or not."
Cummings also is battling with the White House to find out if Trump's lawyer, Sheri Dillon, and a former White House official, Stefan Passantino, had misled federal officials on the issue. the fact that the President had not disclosed the payments he had made in silence. Money plan to silence stories about his alleged extramarital affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Passantino no longer works at the White House and is now a lawyer at the Trump Organization. But in a letter to Cummings, Cipollone said the committee had made "totally unfair" allegations against Passantino and Dillon – and said Passantino would not sit for an interview.
"In response to your request, given the long-standing law and practice, we are not inclined to put the former Deputy Legal Counsel to the President at the disposal of a transcribed interview relating to his conversations and the advice that he has provided all as the deputy legal adviser to the President, "said Cipollone. wrote referring to Passantino.
Asked earlier this week that he would be summoning Passantino and Dillon, Cummings replied, "I have not arrived yet."
But Cummings said there is "a precedent" for House committees to turn to former leaders without first consulting the White House. A Democratic Assistant provided CNN with letters from 2013, when Darrell Issa, then GOP Chair, contacted three federal officials – the former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson , former Energy Department chief Jonathan Silver and former White House chief technology officer Andrew McLaughlin – at their office addresses.
The fight between Cummings and the White House council office could set the tone for the wider Democratic House, which is conducting numerous investigations into the Trump administration and its activities.
For example, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Adam Schiff, said that he was about to bring back from the last congress some of the officials questioned during the Republican-led survey on Russia, which refused to answer questions about their stay at the White House. Bannon.
The Speaker of the Judiciary, Jerry Nadler, also contacted a number of officials Cummings contacted as part of his security clearance investigation. The latter sent a letter to 81 people and entities earlier this month as part of his investigation into possible corruption. , obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Nadler said Thursday that nearly half of the recipients had indicated that they would provide documents by Monday's deadline, while a handful of them said that they would not would not do.
"We have heard a number of other people say that they would bow if we gave them a subpoena, they want an excuse, they want a friendly subpoena," said Nadler. "There are some people who have been provocative and who said they would not comply, but that 's only a handful.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Friday.
Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb from CNN contributed to this report.