In this March 24, 2019 photo, The White House is seen behind security barriers in Washington. A White House official turned whistleblower says dozens of people in President Donald Trump's administration were granted access to classified information despite "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds including concerns about foreign influence, drug use and criminal conduct. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Photo: Cliff Owen/AP
Photo: Cliff Owen/AP

Whistleblower says White House overruled 25 security clearance denials

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In a letter sent Monday to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the House Oversight Committee said it is probing clearances granted to several officials, including Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“The Committee respects the President’s authority to grant security clearances,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Monday. 

“However, the White House must respect Congress’ co-equal and independent authority to investigate who has been given access to our nation’s secrets, how they obtained that access, the extent to which national security has been compromised, and whether Congress should amend current laws to improve national security and enhance transparency over these decisions.”

>> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: White House whistleblower: multiple officials denied clearances had rejections overruled

The whistleblower, identified as White House employee Tricia Newbold, said last month at a closed-door hearing before the House Oversight Committee that security clearance applications “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security.” She said Trump administration officials overruled background checkers to grant clearances for applicants 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 testified that she started compiling a list in 2018 of people whose security clearance denials were overturned and that the list had 25 people on it at last count.

>> Read the interview summary released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform 

The denials were overruled with inadequate or no explanations, said Newbold, an 18-year employee of the Executive Office of the President who serves as adjudications manager for the Personnel Security Office.

“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,” Newbold said, according to the House Oversight Committee.

>> Report: Trump ordered top-secret security clearance for Jared Kushner

The committee’s top Republican, Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan, slammed the decision to release information from Newbold’s testimony in a statement Monday, accusing Cummings of using the typically bipartisan security clearance process to attack 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 said. “The process by which the matter has so far progressed has been anything but fair.”

>> Read the letter sent Monday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee to White House Counsel Patt Cipollone

As evidence of the lack of balance, Jordan pointed to the time of the hearing, which took place Saturday, March 23, at 8:30 a.m. Jordan said the hearing was scheduled at the last minute, and so legislators had little time to prepare for the hearing. Cummings said Monday that the abrupt scheduling was a result of White House attempts “to block these witnesses from cooperating with the committee” and an attempt to protect Newbold’s rights as a whistleblower.

Newbold told the House Oversight Committee that she tried several times to bring up her concerns to her superiors in the Executive Office of the President and further up the chain to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file.

Newbold said that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process and removed from a supervisory responsibility.

The committee has previously singled out Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter as it sought records from the White House about how their clearances were handled.

Cummings said he will move this week to authorize his first subpoena in the probe, which will be for the deposition of Carl Kline. 

Kline served as the White House personnel security director and supervised Newbold. He has since left the White House for the Defense Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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