White House Waived ‘Dozens’ of Clearance Denials

Findings of "foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct" were dismissed.

WaPo (“White House whistleblower says 25 security clearance denials were reversed during Trump administration“):

A White House whistleblower told lawmakers that more than two dozen denials for security clearances have been overturned during the Trump administration, calling Congress her “last hope” for addressing what she considers improper conduct that has left the nation’s secrets exposed.

Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she and her colleagues issued “dozens” of denials for security clearance applications that were later approved despite their concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags, according to panel documents released Monday.

Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said she warned her superiors that clearances “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security” — and was retaliated against for doing so.

“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,” Newbold told the committee, according to a panel document summarizing her allegations.

Newbold added: “I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office.”

The allegation comes during an escalating fight over the issue between House Democrats and the White House. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the committee chairman, said in a letter to the White House Counsel’s Office that his panel would vote on Tuesday to subpoena at least one individual who overruled Newbold — the committee’s first compulsory move aimed at the White House.

[…]

In a statement, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, accused Cummings of politicizing an issue that should be bipartisan.

“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 this matter has so far progressed has been anything but fair.”

The Trump administration has refused to comply with numerous document requests and inquiries Cummings has made on the topic over the past two years. Cummings identified the security clearance process as one of his top priorities after Democrats took the majority in the House in the fall, but his panel has not received a single document from the White House on the issue.

NYT (“Whistle-Blower Tells Congress of Irregularities in White House Security Clearances“) adds:

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.

[…]

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.

[…]

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. 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.

That the President overruled investigators on security clearances isn’t new news. We already knew he had done so with Jared Kushner and several other senior appointees. That the number is bigger than we thought (the discord between the “25” in the WaPo headline and “dozens” quoted in the story is not made clear in the report) certainly adds intrigue.

As I’ve noted before, the President is the ultimate classifying authority and has the full legal authority to grant a clearance to anybody he wants. The report is vague as to who it was that was granting the actual waivers; in one case, it was then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

In a vacuum—that is, knowing nothing about Trump—one could easily construct reasons why waivers, even a lot of them, would be completely reasonable. Our system for conducting background checks has changed only marginally since the early days of the Cold War and the sort of person appointed by a theoretical white hat President Trump would be very hard to clear. That is, very successful businessmen who have complicated financial histories and routine, above-board interactions with foreign nationals are simply going to generate “concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags” that the current system finds difficult to adjudicate. It would be perfectly reasonable for such a President to declare “I have full confidence in the patriotism and integrity of my appointee” and grant the waiver.

Alas, Trump is not a blank slate. We have all manner of evidence of untoward entanglements with hostile and corrupt foreign governments, including some that have led to criminal indictments and guilty pleas. In that light, these revelations are much more problematic.

Is any of this evidence that any of the officials Trump granted clearances to via such waivers handed classified information over to hostile foreign powers? Nope. Is it reasonable to wonder whether they have? You bet.

It’s obviously something Congress is right to be looking into. Jordan’s protest over politicization of the issue is risible. Further, while Cipollone is hardly unique among White House counsels in arguing for the vastness of Presidential authority, there’s no plausible Constitutional theory whereby the Congress doesn’t have the right to oversee the handling of classified information in the Executive agencies created under its authority and funded by its appropriations.

The irony that Trump likely wouldn’t have been elected were it not for Hillary Clinton’s flouting of security rules vis-a-vis “her emails” is obviously not lost here, either.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Of course he did.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    “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,”

    This pretty much describes all the Benghazi investigations. What goes around comes around. Of course, I think the concerns in this instance are a lot more substantive than with Benghazi. I’m pretty sure Jim Jordan doesn’t care what I think, though.

    16
  3. CSK says:

    I can tell you what the Trump Fan Club response will be: Newbold is a Deep State globalist saboteur planted by Obama to undermine President Trump.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    “What goes around comes around.”

    Between this complaint and McConnell saying Democrats are creating “across-the-board obstruction” to Presidential nominees leads to the unfortunate conclusion that Republicans believe they have so well “worked the refs” that the so-called liberal media is never going to call them for doing exactly what they are accusing Democrats of doing the last time the shoe was on the other foot.

  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    But her e-mails…and Benghazi!!!

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m pretty sure Tony Soprano would have had trouble getting security clearances for Christofuh and Paulie Walnuts, too. It’s sad how hard it is to get clearances to staff up a crime family.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Indeed. As noted in the OP, I can conjure up a theoretical businessman without political experience—say, a Howard Schultz—who wants to “Run government like a business” and appointed a bunch of really smart, connected business guys who would run into many of these sort of problems. But probably not the criminal charges, aside perhaps some low-level drug usage.

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    ‘Whistleblower’ in White House security clearance office gets suspended
    Tricia Newbold was suspended less than a week after NBC reported Jared Kushner’s top-secret security clearance was approved over staff objections.
    NBC News
    In her EEOC complaint, Newbold, who has a rare form of dwarfism, accused Kline of discriminating against her because of her height.
    Her complaint states that, in December 2017, Kline moved security files to a new location that were too high and out of her reach. “You have people, have them get you the files you need; or you can ask me,” he told Newbold, according to her complaint.
    Two sources who did not want to be identified confirmed that Kline had moved files out of Newbold’s reach.

    I do not condone violence. Therefore I will not suggest that kneecapping be administered as a remedy to correct Citizen Kline’s thuggish behavior.

  9. Teve says:

    I’m sure most if not all administrations have issued some waivers for unusual situations in the past. One of the Pod Save America guys had a little speed bump in getting a clearance because of some previous pot use or something if I recall correctly. But I would like to know how the 25, or dozens, compare to the last several administrations. The WaPo article gives no such context.

  10. JohnMcC says:

    Perhaps not a significant aspect of the story insofar as the Post is concerned but there is something about the childish retribution taken against Ms Newbold by political appointees as the WH that ought to be at least mentioned.

    (Edit: As I see my friend Phineas T has already done.)

  11. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC: Would you expect any less on their part? Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski’s disability. He routinely calls women “pigs,” “dogs,” and “fat slobs.” His nickname for Stormy Daniels, whom he told reminded him of Ivanka, is “horseface.” That’s how Trump rolls, and that’s how his minions roll. This is how a tough guy acts, in their estimation–he mocks disabled people and women on the basis of their looks.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    @JohnMcC:..childish retribution…

    Credit where it is due. I heard about Kline’s dispicable acts on an NPR newscast earlier today.
    Would have mentioned that if I was able to call up the usually reliable OTB edit function.

  13. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Mister Bluster: I don’t have any principles, so allow me to make that recommendation. It has just the right Karmic proportions.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    This pretty much describes all the Benghazi investigations.

    Yet another example of how the projection that this crowd practices is incredibly consistent…

  15. rachel says:

    That the number is bigger than we thought (the discord between the “25” in the WaPo headline and “dozens” quoted in the story is not made clear in the report) certainly adds intrigue.

    Um… I don’t get why you feel there’s a discrepancy here. 25 is 2 dozen plus a bit more.

  16. rachel says:

    @Mister Bluster: No need to maim him for life. Just punch him in the ‘nads and grab the file on his way down.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Teve:

    I would like to know how the 25, or dozens, compare to the last several administrations. The WaPo article gives no such context.

    Agree—a point I intended to make in the OP and forgot.

    @rachel:

    Um… I don’t get why you feel there’s a discrepancy here. 25 is 2 dozen plus a bit more.

    Well, first, because I tend not to use vague numbers if there’s an actual one and, second, because I tend to use “dozens” to mean “several dozen.” (Merriam-Webster is with me on the latter: “an indefinitely large number”)

  18. Mister Bluster says:

    @rachel:..nad’s…
    I am compelled to repeat that I do not condone violence so I must eschew your advice.* Besides as with President Pud I question the suggestion that such a loathsome creature as Kline appears to be has any balls.

    *Not to mention I have no idea who is reading the comments we all make in our posts here at OTB.
    The Government Is Investigating People Who Leave Comments On The Internet Now

  19. Tony W says:

    Back in my working days, a few colleagues of mine were livid about Clinton’s e-mail “scandal,” telling me this was evidence that she was too arrogant to be president. In this group, we all held clearances of one sort or another and they said: “well if you or I did this, we’d lose our clearance in a heartbeat”.

    Those guys are silent now. Apparently, their objection to Clinton wasn’t about clearances or maintaining proper national security. Who coulda knew?

  20. rachel says:

    @Mister Bluster: They’ve investigated people who made comments on the Internet since I don’t know when. I remember one case of a writer on LiveJournal having the Secret Service show up at her home to discuss some comments she’d made about W. She was joking; they weren’t.