White House whistleblower tells House panel about ‘systematic’ security clearance problems

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White House whistleblower tells House panel about ‘systematic’ security clearance problems




Jared Kushner

Investigations into the White House security clearance process intensified following reports that President Donald Trump ordered his then-chief of staff to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

White House

The individuals ‘had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues’ including drug use and criminal conduct, aides wrote in the 10-page memo.

Updated


A White House Personnel Security Office employee is alleging that senior Trump administration officials often rebuffed national security concerns to grant high-level security clearances to people who initially were denied access to top-secret information, a pattern she described as troubling and one she said continued for months.

That employee, Tricia Newbold, laid out a series of explosive allegations, often implicating Carl Kline, the former White House personnel security chief. She kept a list of White House officials whose clearance applications initially were denied but eventually overruled, and said the list includes as many as 25 people, some of whom had daily access to the president.

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“According to Ms. Newbold, these individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct,” aides wrote in the 10-page memo, summarizing Newbold’s testimony.

Newbold, who sat for an interview with the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 23 about the Trump administration’s security clearance process, is the highest-ranking White House official to speak out about the issue which has come under the intense scrutiny of lawmakers.

She told the committee that coming to Congress was her “last hope” to bring “integrity” back to her office, noting that her internal complaints were ignored even as she amassed a list of more than two dozen officials whose clearances were approved despite initial denial.

“I do not see a way forward positively in our office without coming to an external entity, and that’s because I have raised my concerns throughout the [Executive Office of the President] to career staffers as well as political staffers,” she said, according to a memo prepared for members of the committee. “And I want it known that this is a systematic, it’s an office issue, and we’re not a political office, but these decisions were being continuously overrode.”

Newbold, who serves as the adjudications manager in the personnel security office, has worked at the White House for nearly two decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. She was suspended without pay for two weeks earlier this year, an action she described as retaliation and one that is under review by federal anti-discrimination officials.

Newbold is still a White House employee but she no longer is allowed to adjudicate security clearances amid a wider reorganization of the personnel security office, her lawyer Ed Passman told POLITICO on Monday. She’s also in constant fear of losing her job, Passman said.

“She needs the income for her health care and her kids’ [health care]. She’s very concerned,” Passman said.

“I would not be doing a service to myself, my country, or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security,” Newbold said in her interview with committee staffers for the Republican and Democratic sides of the committee.

The committee’s investigation into the White House security clearance process intensified earlier this year after it was reported that President Donald Trump ordered his then-chief of staff to grant a top-secret security clearance to Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, a directive that overruled intelligence officials.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s chairman, has requested documents and witness interviews from the White House related specifically to Kushner’s clearance. However, the White House has said it would not comply with the “overly intrusive” request for information.

The committee will vote to authorize a subpoena for Kline on Tuesday, Cummings said in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone in which the chairman of the powerful House committee chided the top White House lawyer over his refusal to turn over documents to the panel.

“You have refused to provide any information about the specific individuals the committee is investigating, the specific instances of abuse, wrongdoing, or mistakes we have identified, or the problematic practices of the White House Security Office over the past two years,” Cummings wrote.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight panel, said Cummings was releasing “cherry-picked” information and claimed that Newbold’s list of 25 people includes “non-political officials such as a GSA custodian.”

“It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that Chairman Cummings is now using this sensitive topic as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House,” Jordan said.

In a response memo, Republicans on the Oversight Committee complained that Democrats took Newbold’s interview out of context and mischaracterized her knowledge of the reasons top officials overruled her security clearance decisions. They also argued that Newbold’s testimony was “overblown” because only a handful of security clearance applications she denied were for “very serious reasons.”

“If Kline overturned only—at most—five clearance adjudications with very serious concerns out of five thousand, Ms. Newbold’s concerns seem overblown,” Republican aides wrote in their memo.

During her interview with the committee, Newbold acknowledged the president’s right to unilaterally grant security clearances, but she said that power should be scrutinized.

“Once we adjudicate it, the president absolutely has the right to override and still grant the clearance, but we owe it to the president and the American people to do what is expected of us, and our job is to adjudicate national security adjudications regardless of influence,” Newbold testified to the committee.

The memo noted that the White House “sought to block” Newbold and other witnesses from speaking out to lawmakers. It also said other whistleblowers have “corroborated” Newbold’s allegations, “but they were too afraid about the risk to their careers to come forward publicly.”

Newbold explained that she often clashed with Kline, who was her boss. She also outlined three specific examples in which three senior White House officials — identified only as one, two and three — had their clearance denials overruled.

In the case of one of those officials, Newbold said Kline dismissed concerns of “foreign influence, outside activities … and personal conduct” of that individual by simply noting in the person’s file: “The activities occurred prior to federal service.” Newbold also said a separate government agency reached out to her to understand “how we rendered a favorable adjudication” for that individual.

“Ms. Newbold informed committee staff that this was an indication of the agency’s ‘serious concerns’ regarding the White House’s adjudicative outcome,” the memo states.

Kline often personally intervened to override concerns about granting a clearance to certain officials, according to Newbold.

In the case of another senior White House official, Newbold said she told Kline that she planned to deny that clearance application based on an “extremely thorough” 14-page memo detailing “foreign influence and outside activities.” According to Newbold, Kline granted that individual a clearance after telling Newbold to “not touch” the issue.

Newbold also told the committee that Kline asked her to “change” an unfavorable recommendation for a senior National Security Council official. “I said I absolutely would not,” Newbold said.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this story.

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