Whistleblower says Trump team overruled 25 clearance denials

2019-04-02 23:00
President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

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A White House whistleblower has said the Trump administration overruled security experts to give questionable security clearances to more than two dozen people, including the president's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, said she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year due to "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds, but then had those denials overruled by senior administration officials.

The allegations were detailed in a letter and memo released on Monday by Congressman Elijah Cummings, chairperson of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The documents, which are based on Newbold's March 23 private committee interview, don't identify the officials on the list but say they include "two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals" in different parts of the Executive Office of the President.

"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 says.

The release of the documents sets the stage for another fight between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House, and immediately drew criticism from House Republicans who called the allegations overblown and "cherry-picked".

Subpoenas expected

Cummings's panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials including Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter. That probe has picked up steam after The New York Times reported that US President Donald Trump ordered officials to grant Kushner a clearance over the objections of national security officials, and after Newbold spoke out to NBC News and other news outlets about her concerns.

On Monday, Cummings said he will move this week to authorise his first subpoena in the probe. The subpoena will be for the deposition of Carl Kline, who served as the White House personnel security director and supervised Newbold. He has since left the White House for the Defense Department.

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

Jim Jordan, the committee's ranking Republican, said in a statement that Cummings'd probe is a "partisan attack" and an "excuse to go fishing" through personnel files. He also said that one person on Newbold's list is a GSA custodian.

Also, in a response memo circulated to Republican members, Jordan's staff cast Newbold as a disgruntled employee who had only limited knowledge of the reasons security clearances were granted. The Republican document also suggests Newbold's concerns were "overblown", saying that four or five of the clearance denials for "very serious reasons" were a small fraction of about 5 000 employees who work in the Executive Office of the President.

'Terrified of going back'

According to Democrat Cummings's memo, however, Newbold considered the decisions to be part of a "systematic" problem within her office where the decisions of security clearance reviewers were "continuously" overridden.

Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file.

Newbold said that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process. The office also announced a plan to "restructure" that would remove her from a supervisory role, she 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," Cummings's letter quoted Newbold as telling his committee. 

"I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office," she was also quoted as saying. "I'm terrified of going back. I know that this will not be perceived in favor of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office," she is quoted as saying in the letter Cummings sent to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

In response to Newbold's interview, Cummings is asking the White House to turn over the list she created as well as documents related to the handling of security clearances for several senior officials including Flynn, Kushner and Porter.

Flynn maintained his clearance even after the White House learned that he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's ambassador and that he was under investigation by the Justice Department for his previous foreign work.

Kushner failed to initially disclose numerous foreign meetings on security clearance forms, and, according to the Times, career officials recommended against granting him a clearance before Trump personally overruled them.

Porter had high-level access with an interim security clearance even though the FBI repeatedly told the White House of past allegations of domestic violence lodged against him by two ex-wives.

Porter resigned after the allegations becoming public.

Increased pressure

Separately on Monday, the House Judiciary Committee said that it will this week issue subpoenas to obtain Special Counsel Robert Muller's full report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. 

Attorney General William Barr issued a summary of Mueller's findings to Congress on March 24, saying the special counsel did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.

Mueller left unresolved the question of whether Trump obstructed justice during the probe, and Barr concluded the evidence was insufficient to charge the president.

Barr has said he will issue a redacted copy of Mueller's full report by mid-April, but Democrats want it without redactions and have demanded it be given to them this week.

The new round of subpoenas signals increased pressure from Democrats on the Republican Trump White House.

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