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.