WASHINGTON (AP) — A career official in the White House security office says dozens of people in President Donald Trump’s administration were granted security clearances despite “disqualifying issues” in their backgrounds, including concerns about foreign influence, drug use and criminal conduct.
Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, says she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year, but senior officials overruled those denials.
The allegations were detailed in a letter and memo released Monday by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The documents, which are based on Newbold’s March 23 private committee interview, don’t identify the officials on the list but say they include “two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals” in different parts of the Executive Office of the President.
“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,” the memo says.
The release of the documents sets up another fight between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House, and it immediately drew criticism from House Republicans who called the allegations overblown and “cherry-picked.”
Cummings’ panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter. That probe has picked up steam after The New York Times reported that Trump ordered officials to grant Kushner a clearance over the objections of national security officials, and after Newbold spoke out to NBC News and other news outlets about her concerns.
On Monday, Cummings said he will move this week to authorize his first subpoena in the probe. The subpoena will be for the deposition of Carl Kline, who served as the White House personnel security director and supervised Newbold. He has since left the White House for the Defense Department.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News on Tuesday that she could not talk about individual security clearances, but asserted that Democrats were “acting in bad faith” because they are asking for personal, confidential information “they know they have absolutely no right to see.”
“Let’s not forget 3 million Americans have security clearances that work for the government. By exploiting one, you’re exploiting all of their personal information,” Sanders said.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement that Cummings’ probe is a “partisan attack” and an “excuse to go fishing” through personnel files. He also said that one person on Newbold’s list is a GSA custodian.
Also, in a response memo circulated to Republican members, Jordan’s staff cast Newbold as a disgruntled employee who had only limited knowledge of the reasons security clearances were granted. The Republican document also suggests Newbold’s concerns were “overblown,” saying that four or five of the clearance denials for “very serious reasons” were a small fraction of about 5,000 employees who work in the Executive Office of the President.
According to Democrat Cummings’ memo, though, Newbold considered the decisions to be part of a “systematic” problem within her office where the decisions of security clearance reviewers were “continuously” overridden.
Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House 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. The office also announced a plan to “restructure” that would remove her from a supervisory role, she said.
In response to Newbold’s interview, Cummings is asking the White House to turn over the list she created as well as documents related to the handling of security clearances for several senior officials including Flynn, Kushner and Porter.
Flynn maintained his clearance even after the White House learned that he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador and that he was under investigation by the Justice Department for his previous foreign work.
Kushner failed to initially disclose numerous foreign meetings on security clearance forms, and, according to the Times, career officials recommended against granting him a clearance before Trump personally overruled them.
Porter had high-level access with an interim security clearance even though the FBI repeatedly told the White House of past allegations of domestic violence lodged against him by two ex-wives.
Porter resigned after the allegations becoming public.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.