WASHINGTON — A whistle-blower working inside the White House has told a House committee that senior Trump administration officials granted security clearances to at least 25 individuals whose applications had been denied by career employees, the committee's Democratic staff said Monday.
The whistle-blower, Tricia Newbold, a manager in the White House's Personnel Security Office, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee in a private interview last month that the 25 individuals included two current senior White House officials, in addition to contractors and other employees working for the office of the president, the staff said in a memo it released publicly.
The memo does not identify any of 25 individuals referenced by Ms. Newbold. The New York Times reported in February that President Trump had personally ordered his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to grant a clearance last year to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. Mr. Kelly had recorded Mr. Trump's direction to him in a memo, according to several people familiar with its contents. Mr. Trump had denied playing a role in an interview with The Times in the Oval Office a month earlier. Mr. Kelly left the White House at the end of last year.
Ms. Newbold told the committee's staff members that the clearance applications had been denied for a variety of reasons, including "foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct," the memo said. The denials by the career employees were overturned, she said, by more-senior officials who did not follow the procedures designed to mitigate security risks.
Ms. Newbold, who has worked in the White House for 18 years under both Republican and Democratic administrations, said she chose to speak to the Oversight Committee after attempts to raise concerns with her superiors and the White House counsel went nowhere, according to the committee staff's account.
"I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office," she said, according to a summary of her March 23 interview with the committee's staff distributed on Monday.
White House officials have been concerned for weeks that Ms. Newbold would either speak publicly or share information that she had gleaned about how security clearances had been handled during the first half of Mr. Trump's term. Her statements to the Oversight Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, are likely to increase pressure on the White House to address lingering questions about its general practices around keeping the nation's secrets and several high-profile cases.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who is the Oversight Committee's chairman, included information provided by Ms. Newbold in a letter to Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, on Monday again demanding that the White House turn over files connected to the security clearance process and make administration personnel available for interviews.
Mr. Cummings said he was prepared to authorize subpoenas as soon as Tuesday to try to compel the White House to comply with an investigation into whether national secrets were at risk — an escalation that could force Mr. Cipollone either to reach an accommodation with Congress or fight in court.
"The committee has given the White House every possible opportunity to cooperate with this investigation, but you have declined," Mr. Cummings wrote to Mr. Cipollone, describing a 90-minute briefing Mr. Cipollone provided and on-site document review as "general" and unhelpful. "Your actions are now preventing the committee from obtaining the information it needs to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans on Capitol Hill blasted Mr. Cummings for his handling of the case, calling it a "partisan attack on the White House" and accusing him of cherry picking from Ms. Newbold's interview. For example, they said, among the 25 individuals cited by Ms. Newbold were nonpolitical employees including a General Services Administration janitor.
Mr. Cipollone has argued repeatedly that the power to deny or grant security clearances "belongs exclusively" to the executive branch and therefore Congress has no authority to make such "unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive demands." He has simultaneously accused Mr. Cummings of mischaracterizing his posture toward the committee, writing that his office had been acting in good faith with regard to several of the committee's investigations.
Mr. Cummings said he planned to issue a subpoena for the testimony of Carl Kline, who until recently served as the head of the personnel security division and was Ms. Newbold's boss, and he identified five other senior White House officials whose testimony he planned to seek.
He requested summaries of the security clearance adjudication process and any related documents for nine current and former officials, including Mr. Kushner; Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and White House adviser; and John Bolton, the national security adviser. Mr. Cummings also asked for a document Ms. Newbold said she assembled on the 25 individuals whose clearance denials she said were reversed.
Ms. Newbold gave the committee details about the cases of two senior White House officials whom she said were initially denied security clearances by her or other nonpolitical specialists in the office that were later overturned.
In one case, she said that a senior White House official was denied a clearance after a background check turned up concerns about possible foreign influence, "employment outside or businesses external to what your position at the EOP entails," and the official's personal conduct. Mr. Kline stepped in to reverse the decision, she said, writing in the relevant file that "the activities occurred prior to Federal service" without addressing concerns raised by Ms. Newbold and another colleague.
NBC News reported in January that Mr. Kline had overruled a decision by career security officials concerned about granting Mr. Kushner a clearance.
In the case of the second senior White House official, Ms. Newbold told the committee that a specialist reviewing the clearance application wrote a 14-page memo detailing disqualifying concerns, including possible foreign influence. She said that Mr. Kline instructed her "do not touch" the case, and soon granted the official clearance.
In its January report, NBC News also said that Ms. Newbold had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October 2018 against Mr. Kline, accusing him of discriminating against her over her short stature, which is caused by a form of dwarfism.
There is nothing barring the president or his designees from overturning the assessments of career officials. But Ms. Newbold sought to portray the decisions as unusual and frequent, and, in any case, irregular compared to the processes usually followed by her office to mitigate security risks.
"Once we adjudicate it, the president absolutely has the right to override and still grant the clearance, but we owe it to the president and the American people to do what is expected of us, and our job is to adjudicate national security adjudications regardless of influence," she told the committee, according to the staff's memo.
Ms. Newbold also asserted that the Trump administration had made changes to security protocols that made it easier for individuals to get clearances. The changes included stopping credit checks on applicants to work in the White House, which she said helps identify if employees of the president could be susceptible to blackmail. She also said the White House had stopped, for a time, the practice of reinvestigating certain applicants who had received security clearances in the past.
The issue is not a new one for the Trump administration.
In February 2018, questions emerged about the process behind the interim security clearance granted to Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary. Mr. Kelly announced a series of changes to the process, which resulted in Mr. Kushner's status — interim top secret at the time — being downgraded.
In the months that followed, some White House officials privately accused Mr. Kelly and other officials of using the security clearances in an arbitrary fashion, to push out aides they either did not favor or who they saw as disruptive to managing Mr. Trump.
April 1, 2019
April 1, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. Since Trump knows he is smarter than all the Generals and all our Intelligence Agencies, he surely knows who should get security clearance and who should not! Aren't you glad we have such genius in the White House! #TrumpMakesAmericaUnsafe #StopTrump