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Whistleblower says 25 people given White House clearance despite rejections

Whistleblower on WH security clearances
Whistleblower on WH security clearances 02:48

A whistleblower has come forward to say that dozens of White House security clearance applications rejected by the Personnel Security Office for "serious disqualifying issues" were later overturned with insufficient explanation. Tricia Newbold, who adjudicated security clearances for the office, told the House Oversight Committee that decisions on clearance applications for White House officials weren't always made in the "best interest of national security," according to a memo sent by Chairman Elijah Cummings to members of the committee.

Newbold said that in 2018, she began keeping a list of the White House employees and officials whose rejections were overturned, and over the course of the year, her list grew to 25, including "two current senior White House officials" who "had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct."

She told the committee she knew that the denials could be reversed, but she was concerned that they were being overridden without documentation or acknowledgment by higher-ranking officials of "the risks they were accepting."

According to Cummings, Newbold laid out the process for the committee, saying, for instance, that if there were five disqualifying strikes in an employee's application, it was the responsibility of the reviewers to "mitigate all five of them and to properly highlight those," so that anyone who reviewed the case would be able to see "the thought process and the work that went into" the recommendation to reject the employee's security clearance request.

In the case of one person identified as "Senior White House Official 1," Nebold said that the background investigation had revealed "significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities ('employment outside or business external to what your office at the (Executive Office of the President) entails'), and personal conduct."

The director of Personnel Security, Carl Kline, overruled the rejection by noting in the file that "the activities occurred prior to Federal service." He did not, said Newbold, address each concern noted by her and by another adjudicator.

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On the same day that she talked with Kline about the Senior White House Official 1, she also spoke with him about a second "very senior White House Official," referred to in Cummings' memo as "Senior White House Official 2," who had been rejected by her and another adjudicator. The reviewer, Newbold said, had written an "'extremely thorough'" 14-page summary listing disqualifying concerns including "foreign influence and outside activities." She said that Kline instructed her "do not touch" the case, and soon afterward, he overturned the rejection and approved the security clearance.

In another case, Newbold said that she had rejected an application and was asked by Kline to change her recommendation.

She has created a document listing approximately 25 individuals who were granted security clearances or eligibility to access national security information despite recommendations to deny their applications. The committee is requesting this information from the White House.

Cummings will be sending a letter to the White House Monday about the committee's interview with Newbold and will also notify the White House that it will begin authorizing subpoenas beginning at the Oversight Committee's business meeting Tuesday.

Read Cummings' letter here:

Newbold has been a career employee for the Executive Office of the President for 18 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Newbold told the committee that "she and other career officials adjudicated denials of dozens of applications for security clearances that were later overturned," the letter says.

According to Cummings' memo, Newbold said her efforts to raise concerns about the security clearance process were met with retaliation. In January, she was suspended without pay for 14 days, although she had no prior record of any disciplinary action and received a positive employee review in 2017. The notification of her suspension said that she was being punished for her refusal to support new procedures implemented by her supervisor.

Newbold also claims that the office has been restructured to take away her supervisory responsibilities and to bypass her in the processing of security applications.

She says that she is "terrified of going back" to the office because she fears more reprisals. Since January of last year, she says that Kline has taken actions to physically humiliate her because of her dwarfism. Newbold said that he physically elevated security files out of her reach, and when she complained to him, he replied, "'I have people, they can get the files for me.'"

Newbold said she agreed to identify herself publicly "because she strongly believes that Congress must intervene immediately to safeguard our national security."

Read more details from Newbold's interview here:

The first subpoena will be issued to Kline, who is now an employee in the Defense Department employee. Before that, he served as personnel security director at the White House for about two years. He has not responded to voluntary interview requests.

Ranking Member Jim Jordan called the use of whistleblower information "reckless" in a statement Monday.

"It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that Chairman Cummings is now using this sensitive topic as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House. Chairman 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 slammed Democrats' process for conducting the interview Saturday morning and not informing Republican colleagues of the interview topic or witness until later that afternoon, "leaving little to no time to prepare." 

"Chairman Cummings has departed from longstanding bipartisan oversight of the security clearance process to advance his partisan efforts to attack the President. His unilateral decision to release cherry-picked excerpts from one witness so early into an investigation is far from the constructive oversight he promised," Jordan added.

The committee said they will also interview:

  • The current chief security officer
  • Former Chief Security Officer Cory Louie
  • Chief Operating Officer Samuel Price
  • Former Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin
  • Deputy Director of Administration William Hughes

Cummings says that the committee is open to forgoing interviews with some White House officials if they turn over some of the documents that are dated earlier than June 21, 2018, as well as data from the Executive Office of the President on John Bolton, Michael Flynn, Sebastian Gorka, Jared Kushner, John McEntee, K.T. McFarland, Robert Porter, Robin Townley and Ivanka Trump.

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