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Whistleblower: Trump Admin. Overruled Dozens of Security Clearance Denials

House Oversight Committee says it will swiftly begin authorizing subpoenas to probe concerns

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

 House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), seen here on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019, publicized "grave reports" from a whistleblower regarding the Trump administration's overruling of security clearance denials.  (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A White House whistleblower says the Trump administration cast aside "the best interest of national security" when it overturned dozens of security clearance application denials made by career officials.

The allegation was made by current White House employee Tricia Newbold—a security specialist whose 18 years in government have been spent under Democratic and Republican administrations alike—and was publicized in a letter (pdf) sent Monday from House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

"The release of the information comes about a month after The New York Times reported that Trump ordered officials to grant [Trump son-in-law Jared] 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," as The Associated Press reported.

The new letter comes as part of the oversight committee's ongoing probe of the administration's security clearance processes, and while the investigation has been met with obstruction from the White House, Cummings wrote, his committee has "not been idle."

Action has included an on-the-record interview with Newbold, who told the committee, "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."

From Cummings' letter:

She has informed the committee that during the Trump administration, she and other career officials adjudicated denials of dozens of applications for security clearances that were later overturned. As a result, she warned that security clearance applications for White House officials "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security."

She also reported to the committee that she has been targeted for retaliation after declining to grant security clearances based on longstanding national security protocols. She stated: "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."

Yet, despite these risks, she has agreed to identify herself publicly at this time because she strongly believes that Congress must intervene immediately to safeguard our national security.

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Cummings also fired off a memo to committee members on Monday. "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," it said. 

The letter to the White House counsel says that Newbold identified 25 individuals whose security clearance denials were overruled. While no names are given, Cummings's letter to staff says that the list included "two current senior White House officials."

"According to Ms. Newbold, her concern was that many security clearance denials were routinely overruled without following the proper protocols to document why senior officials disagreed with assessments and without memorializing the risks they were accepting."

Regarding one of the two senior officials, "Senior White House Official 1," Newbold and another security clearance officer issued denials based on factors "including foreign influence, outside activities ('employment outside or businesses external to what your position at the EOP entails'), and personal conduct." The director of personnel security, Carl Kline, however, was unmoved and overruled their determination without addressing their concerns they laid out.

Newbold also mentioned concerns that another clearance adjudicator laid out as disqualifiers in a 14-page document for a second "very senior White House official." She was told, however, to not touch the case, and the individual was given a clearance.

Among other concerns she raised were "the unusually high number of interim clearances under the Trump Administration," as well as the duration of those interim clearances; the lack of proper security for personnel security files; and the failure to fully staff the clearance office.

The letter also draws attention to the retaliation Newbold already faced this year when she was given a suspension and discriminatory work environment after raising concerns about the offices' practices.

"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," Cummings wrote, "the committee now plans to proceed with compulsory process and begin authorizing subpoenas, starting at tomorrow's business meeting." 

 

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