The Trump administration has granted security clearances to at least 25 people who were denied access to sensitive information, a whistle-blower from inside the White House told a congressional committee last month.
Tricia Newbold, an employee of the White House Personnel Security Office, told staffers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she would be abdicating her responsibilities to herself, her children, and her country if she “sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security.”
Among the problems leading to the more than two dozen initial security-clearance denials were “issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct,” House aides wrote in a memo summarizing Newbold’s testimony.
Newbold said Carl Kline, her former boss in the White House Personnel Security Office, often did the administration’s bidding. She told the committee about two specific instances in which career officials highlighted concerns with White House officials. In both, Kline intervened despite the misgivings over granting security clearances. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said he’s preparing to subpoena Kline.
The committee began focusing on security-clearance abuses in January, shortly after Democrats took control of the House. The move came in response to what Cummings called “grave breaches of national security at the highest levels of the Trump Administration.” Politically, Democrats also seem to think this is a winning issue that typifies Trump’s tendency to abuse power.
The burgeoning scandal also highlights the nepotism in the Trump administration, given the roles played by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Both the president’s daughter and his son-in-law were initially denied security clearances. When Trump ordered those denials overturned, both former White House chief of staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Donald McGahn objected. When Kelly followed through on Trump’s request, he documented it in writing.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee accused Cummings on Monday of overhyping Newbold’s testimony. The memo from Democratic staffers “mischaracterizes” Newbold’s testimony, ranking member Jim Jordan said in a statement. “For instance, the twenty-five examples of overruled recommendations by Ms. Newbold heralded by the Democrats include non-political officials such as a GSA custodian.”
In her testimony, Newbold said she was retaliated against for speaking out, receiving a two-week, unpaid suspension and a demotion in January. It was the first formal disciplinary action taken against her during her 18-year career, she said. She also said she fears additional retaliation: “I’m terrified of going back.”