White House whistleblower says 25 security clearance denials were overruled

The White House. Photo by Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

Tricia Newbold, Adjudications Manager in the Personnel Security Office, alleges the White House has overturned the denials of 25 security clearances, saying the applications “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security.”

Newbold, an 18-year non-partisan employee of the Executive Office of the President, was interviewed on March 23 by Oversight Committee staff. In that interview, outlined in a House Oversight and Reform Committee memo sent to committee members, she is identified as a whistleblower and detailed a White House security clearance system that has failed to protect national security interests.

Starting in 2018, Ms. Newbold began keeping a list of individuals whose denied security clearances were overturned. That list of 25 includes “two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals throughout different components of the Executive Office of the President”. The individuals who were initially denied security clearance had serious disqualifying issues ranging from foreign influences and conflicts of interest to drug use, financial problems, and even criminal conduct, according to Newbold.

Newbold recognized the president’s authority to overrule a denial of security clearance but pointed out in her interview that “The President can overrule us, but we have an obligation to do our due diligence, to adjudicate that file the way we are supposed to. 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. If the President wants to override us, he can, but that doesn’t mean at any time that we should alter the way we do business based on what someone may have come out with in the end.”

The memo states that Ms. Newbold’s concern is that the proper protocols that document why security clearances were denied and memorialize the risks accepted in overruling the denials are not being followed in many instances.

Ms. Newbold described three instances where security clearances were denied and subsequently overruled for senior White House officials.

“Senior White House Official 1” was denied clearance after significant disqualifying factors were revealed in a background investigation. Those disqualifying factors included “foreign influence, outside activities (“employment outside or businesses external to what your position at the EOP entails”), and personal conduct”. The Director of the Personnel Security Office, Carl Kline, overruled the denial without noting how each disqualifying factor was considered and mitigated. Newbold told the committee that another agency asked for information about how “Official 1” was granted clearance when that individual applied for a higher level of clearance. The memo notes that it is not known if “Official 1” was granted clearance from that other agency.

The second “very” senior White House official that Ms. Newbold describes was denied clearance in an “extremely thorough” summary which described foreign influence and outside activities in an 14-page adjudication by a first-level reviewer. When Newbold informed Kline she was prepared to deny the application, Kline told her “do not touch”. Kline then wrote a favorable adjudication for this official.

Newbold describes a third situation involving the security clearance for a “high profile official” for the National Security Council. Kline asked Newbold to change her recommendation and she refused. Ultimately, Newbold’s recommendation, based on national security concerns, was heeded and the individual was denied and is no longer working at the White House.

Newbold highlighted concerns with office policies that loosened reviews of preexisting clearances, the cessation of credit checks, unusually high numbers of interim clearances under the Trump administration, insufficient security for personnel files, inexperienced staffing of the the Personnel Security Office, and retaliation by White House Officials for raising “national security concerns with the security clearance process”.

Ms. Newbold told the committee that she believed it was her duty to come forward to Congress because the security clearance process in the White House requires external oversight. She also said, “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.”

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings [D-MD], has sent a letter to Pat Cipolonne, White House Counsel, informing him that the committee will begin the process of authorizing subpoenas at the business meeting scheduled for April 2. Cummings states that the first subpoena will be Carl Kline.

The committee is requesting documents regarding the memorialization of security clearance approvals or denials for “John Bolton, Michael Flynn, Sebastian Gorka, Jared Kushner, John McEntee, K.T. McFarland, Robert Porter, Robin Townley and Ivanka Trump”.

Cummings concluded his letter to Cipollone with a reminder of the laws and regulations regarding retaliation towards a whistleblower who report “waste, fraud, or abuse”. He stated these regulations include Newbold and “any other whistleblowers” the committee may be in contact with.

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