National Security

White House staffer tells Oversight Committee of ‘grave’ concerns with security clearances

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Monday released a memo detailing “grave” national security concerns raised by a White House staffer over the Trump administration’s security clearance process and announced plans to subpoena a former White House official as part of an ongoing investigation into security clearances.

The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, participated in a transcribed interview with Democratic and Republican committee staff in late March “to expose grave and continuing failures of the White House security clearance system, including the security clearance adjudications of senior White House officials,” according to a memo detailing her accusations released by Cummings on Monday. 

{mosads}Among her allegations, Newbold told the committee that Trump administration officials overruled her and other career officials in more than two dozen instances in order to grant clearances to officials and contractors despite there being “disqualifying issues” in their backgrounds.

In a separate letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings accused the White House of “obstructing” his committee’s ongoing probe and said that the committee will vote Tuesday on whether to authorize a subpoena for Carl Kline, the White House’s former personnel security director who served there for the first two years of President Trump’s administration, to appear for a transcribed interview before the committee.

Cummings’s letter cites the committee’s private interview with Newbold, who he says came forward to the committee to discuss “the grave security risks she has been witnessing first-hand over the past two years.”

According to a 10-page memo that Cummings released on Monday, Newbold, who has worked as a career official in the Executive Office of the President for 18 years, told committee staff that she and other career officials denied clearance applications for multiple security clearances that were later overturned by senior officials in order to allow those individuals to access classified material. 

She also said she began keeping a list last year of White House employees’ denials that were overturned and that the list names 25 officials, including two current senior White House officials who are not named in the memo.

“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,” the memo outlining Newbold’s allegations states.

Newbold also spoke of an “unusually high number” of interim security clearances that in some cases were granted to individuals who reviewed highly sensitive information before their background checks were completed. In some cases, some individuals with such access were “later deemed unsuitable for access to classified information,” she added. 

“We were getting out of control with the interim clearances,” Newbold told the Oversight Committee’s staff, according to the memo.

{mossecondads}Newbold, who serves as the adjudications manager in the personnel security office, said she raised issues with multiple lawyers in the White House and other officials, according to the documents released by Cummings. Newbold also told the committee she was retaliated against and harassed for her efforts to raise national security concerns with the White House security clearance process, including by Kline. She has previously spoken to news outlets about the alleged retaliation.

Newbold told the committee that Kline sought to humiliate her in various ways as a result of her rare form of dwarfism, including putting security clearance files on top of drawers that were too tall for her to reach.

She was also suspended for two weeks without pay in late January, a suspension she attributes to voicing her concerns internally with her superiors.

“In light of the grave reports from this whistleblower—and the ongoing refusal of the White House to provide the information we need to conduct our investigation—the Committee now plans to proceed with compulsory process and begin authorizing subpoenas, starting at tomorrow’s business meeting,” Cummings wrote in his letter to Cipollone.

Newbold expressed concern to the committee that the White House security office stopped conducting credit checks on individuals seeking to work in the White House during their initial suitability review, warning the panel that failing to do so prevents them from being able to determine whether applicants “could be susceptible to blackmail, depending on their debts.”

Cummings wrote that “committee staff have spoken with other whistleblowers who corroborated Ms. Newbold’s account, but they were too afraid about the risk to their careers to come forward publicly.”

Monday’s letter follows a report in The New York Times in late February that Trump ordered his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner be given a top-secret security clearances despite flags raised by the intelligence community.

Kushner is not specifically named as one of the senior White House officials in Cummings’s letter.

In his own statement, the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), accused Cummings of using the “sensitive topic” of the security clearance process “as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House” and of “cherry-picking” excerpts from Newbold’s private testimony.

Jordan alleged that Cummings’s 10-page memo “mischaracterizes” information she provided the committee, noting that Newbold’s list of 25 officials including non-political employees, such as a General Services Administration (GSA) custodian.

Monday’s revelations set the stage for a battle between Congress and the White House over one of several House Democrat-led investigations that the Trump administration is currently facing.

In his letter to Cipollone, Cummings also asked the White House to produce a more tailored set of documents laid out in his original request, including the list of 25 officials Newbold claimed that she created.

He requested various security clearance–related documents for current and former officials, including Kushner, current national security adviser John Bolton, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former staff secretary Rob Porter, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.

Additionally, Cummings signaled that the committee would look to subpoena other White House officials in the personnel security office after Kline if the White House does not make them available for interviews. Cummings asked the White House for a response by Friday as to whether it would make other witnesses available to interview voluntarily.

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

Cummings first announced the investigation into the White House security clearance process in late January, requesting a trove of documents from the administration as well as transcribed interviews with officials working in the White House personnel security office.

The White House counsel’s office has been engaging with the committee but, according to Cummings, has not produced any of the documents or made witnesses available for interviews. 

In a letter to Cummings sent in early March, Cipollone argued that the “decision to grant or deny a security clearance is a discretionary function that belongs exclusively to the Executive Branch” and that the committee was making “unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive demands” outside of their oversight responsibilities.

“Although we are prepared to continue negotiations in good faith, the Committee seeks unilateral concessions without any offer of accommodation on its part, and then complains that the White House has refused to simply turn over everything the Committee inappropriately seeks,” Cipollone wrote on March 4.

–This report was updated at 11:31 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner Jim Jordan
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