WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives committee has postponed the deposition of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whistleblower, saying the department had dragged its feet to help the official prepare for his testimony.
In a statement released late on Thursday, Democratic intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff said the panel would reschedule the deposition of former DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy until next week because DHS has delayed security clearances for his lawyers and barred Murphy from reviewing classified materials.
After DHS removed Murphy as its acting intelligence chief earlier this summer, he filed a whistleblower complaint claiming that top department officials had pressured him to stop providing assessments of the threat of Russian interference in the Nov. 3 election and to play down U.S. white supremacist activity.
Schiff said he believed that department political appointees have obstructed and delayed clearances. He said the committee had informed DHS that it "will have no choice" but to subpoena DHS officials and take "other compulsory steps to secure testimony and documents."
"All of our requests to receive one time, limited access to classified information in order for one of us to defend the legal interests of a protected whistleblower as part of a congressional deposition, have been denied," Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Murphy, told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Zaid said DHS only agreed to give Murphy access to unclassified materials related to his work.
A DHS spokesperson said that the department had been cooperating in good faith and accused the committee of trying to "needlessly rush" its investigation.
"To that end, DHS has also agreed to process Mr. Murphy’s attorneys’ request for clearances, and is doing so on an expedited basis. That process, however, takes time as DHS has a duty to protect our national security interests by properly vetting anyone seeking a clearance," the spokesman said.
In a letter to Zaid this week Chad Mizelle, DHS' acting general counsel, said that to consider Zaid's request for Top Secret clearance, the Department would "need to conduct an appropriate investigation ... expeditiously." (Reporting By Mark Hosenball in Washington, D.C. Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Editing by Alistair Bell, Cynthia Osterman & Shri Navaratnam)