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White House apparently has overturned denials of security clearance for 25 people

Posted at 7:32 AM, Apr 01, 2019

A White House staff member has told House investigators that senior officials have overruled concerns raised about 25 individuals whose security clearances were initially denied over a range of disqualifying issues -- such as fears about foreign influence and potential conflicts-of-interests -- warning of the grave implications to national security, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker.

Now House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings plans to issue a subpoena this week demanding an interview with Carl Kline, who served as the personnel security director at the White House during President Donald Trump's first two years in office -- as part of the Democrats' investigation into the handling of the security clearance process, including for Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, who are both also White House advisers.

Cummings released a memo Monday detailing an interview with Tricia Newbold, a White House employee who has worked for 18 years in Republican and Democratic administrations and currently serves as the Adjudications Manager in the Personnel Security Office. According to the memo, Newbold, whom Cummings described as a whistleblower, alleges that the White House has overturned the denials of 25 individuals, including two current senior White House officials, saying those decisions were occurring "without proper analysis, documentation, or a full understanding and acceptance of the risks."

"According to Ms. Newbold, these individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct," Democratic committee staff write in the memo.

During a full day of questioning before Democratic and Republican staff on the committee, Newbold aired out an array of concerns about the security clearance process, saying that the White House had stopped doing credit history checks during the review process, lacked security for personnel files and adequate staff during the review process, and allowed for an "unusually high" number of interim security clearances, including for some individuals "who were later deemed unsuitable for access to classified information," according to the memo. And Newbold contended White House officials retaliated against her because she would not easily greenlight security clearances.

"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 the memo.

The White House did not immediately respond a request for comment, nor did Newbold.

Under the law, the President does have final say when it comes to allowing employees access to classified materials, something that Newbold acknowledged to House investigators, according to the memo.

But Cummings has raised concerns that the White House has ignored basic standards for providing security clearances, instead allowing his inner circle access to the country's innermost secrets without regard to the concerns raised by career professionals. CNN reported last month that Trump pressured senior White House officials to grant Ivanka Trump a security clearance, while The New York Times reported that Trump did the same for Kushner.

The memo does not specify the names of the individuals whose security clearances were initially denied -- only to be overruled by the White House. But it does provide some detail about situations involving two senior White House officials and another who used to work for the National Security Council.

For "senior White House official one," Newbold alleged that the individual's security clearance was denied after the background check revealed "significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities ... and personal conduct." But, she alleged, Kline overruled her recommendation to reject the clearance and merely noted "the activities occurred prior to Federal service," prompting concerns from another federal agency after the official applied for an even higher security clearance.

Similarly, after concerns were raised about "senior White House official two," including over the potential of foreign influence, Kline said "do not touch" the case in a conversation with Newbold, according to the memo, and the individual's security clearance was approved.

For "senior White House official three," who worked at the National Security Council, Kline told Newbold to "change the recommendation" against providing a security clearance, something she said she refused to do.

"I said I would absolutely not," Newbold told the committee.

Along with releasing the memo Monday, Cummings sent a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, accusing the White House of stonewalling his repeated requests for information and saying he would proceed to issue a subpoena for Kline at a committee meeting Tuesday. Cummings warned that he was prepared to issue subpoenas after multiple requests for information went ignored, and said he wanted to interview a number of other officials, including former deputy chief of staff Joseph Hagin.

"In light of the grave reports for the whistleblower -- and the ongoing refusal of the White House to provide the information we need to conduct or investigations -- the Committee now plans to proceed with (the) compulsory process and begin authorizing subpoenas, starting at tomorrow's business meeting," Cummings wrote Monday.

"The Committee will depose Mr. Kline about the security clearance practices in place when he was at the White House, the treatment of specific security clearance adjudications during his tenure, and the interactions with the whistleblower," Cummings wrote.

The White House has continuously argued in their correspondence with Cummings that it had broad jurisdiction to protect security clearance information of individuals and that they had no intention to turn over personal security clearance information with the committee. The White House did provide the committee with a briefing of the administration's security clearance process and a review of "a handful of guidance documents," according to Cummings.