Whistleblower Says White House Overturned 25 Denied Security Clearances
Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET
An 18-year White House employee told congressional investigators that she and other career staffers denied security clearances for 25 Trump administration officials, including three "very senior" officials, only to see most of those recommendations overturned.
The employee, Tricia Newbold, was interviewed by staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Democrats on the panel released a summary of her interview, conducted over the weekend, raising new questions about how and why the White House issued security clearances to, among others, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.
Republicans argued in response that Democrats on the committee released "cherry-picked excerpts" of the interview with Newbold to "manufacture a misleading narrative that the Trump White House is reckless with our national security."
According to Democrats, Newbold said that security clearance applications "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security" and that staff denials were frequently overturned by senior officials to grant the employees access to classified information.
Newbold said that in the case of one official, named only as Senior White House Official 1, staff denied the security clearance request after a background investigation revealed "significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities ... and personal conduct."
But Newbold said the denial was overturned by the director of the White House Personnel Security Office, Carl Kline. Staff also recommended denying a clearance to a second "very senior" official based on "foreign influence and outside activities," but Newbold said Kline told her "do not touch" the case. That clearance was also granted.
Newbold also said Kline told her to change the recommendation against a third senior official, but she refused. That denial was ultimately upheld, the committee says, and the individual is no longer at the White House.
Newbold said that in addition to the two current senior officials, security clearances were also granted to contractors and other individuals in the executive office of the president, despite their having "a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct."
She said that when she raised concerns to her superiors, they ignored those concerns. She said she is coming forward because she believes "that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office."
Newbold also told the oversight committee staff that the White House security office stopped conducting credit checks on applicants to work in the White House during their initial suitability reviews. This, she said, prevents the White House from being able to assess whether applicants "could be susceptible to blackmail, depending on their debts."
Republicans released their own memo Monday afternoon on what they called the "unilateral and partisan investigation," painting Newbold as an employee primarily concerned about disagreements with her supervisor and unhappiness with her work environment.
The committee's Republican staff also pointed out that of the 25 security unfavorable adjudications Newbold observed being overruled, she testified that just four to five were for "very serious reasons."
Finally, the staff said that Newbold acknowledged during her interview with the committee that the Trump administration has begun to improve some aspects of the security clearance process.
The GOP committee staff memo also complained that they were not given sufficient time to prepare for an interview with Newbold and as such were unable to do proper due diligence.
The chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., plans to subpoena Kline to force him to testify before the committee. In a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings said the subpoena is necessary because "The Committee has given the White House every possible opportunity to cooperate with this investigation, but you have declined. Your actions are now preventing the Committee from obtaining the information it needs to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities."
But on Monday evening Kline's attorney sent a letter to the committee indicating that Kline was willing to appear voluntarily for a deposition, but indicated the scope of his testimony would be limited. He also asked Cummings to postpone taking action on a subpoena.
"Serving a Committee subpoena on a heretofore anonymous nonpolitical government employee, who is willing to work with all parties to see if appropriate resolution to a constitutional and legal dispute can be resolved by agreement, is both an extreme and unnecessary step," wrote Kline's lawyer, Robert Driscoll.
The White House has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The ranking Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said in a statement that "Cummings' investigation is not about restoring integrity to the security clearance process, it is an excuse to go fishing through the personal files of dedicated public servants." Jordan said one of the 25 people who received a security clearance despite being initially denied one was a General Services Administration custodian.
- NPR's Carrie Johnson contributed to this report