In recent weeks, there’s been a lingering controversy surrounding Jared Kushner’s White House security clearance. Donald Trump insisted he never overruled national security officials’ concerns and was “never involved” in the process, but John Kelly, the president’s former chief of staff, said Trump ordered him to help his son-in-law, despite the concerns of U.S. officials.
As important as this story is, it raised a related question: in Trump’s White House, just how common is this dynamic? The answer continues to come into sharper focus: a whistleblower told Congress the administration overruled 25 security clearance denials.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a letter released Monday that the whistleblower, Tricia Newbold – a security specialist in the White House – told members of his committee in an interview that the Trump administration’s decisions to overturn clearance denials issued by her office could jeopardize national security and that coming forward marked her “last hope” to “bring the integrity back into” the office.
“She has informed the Committee that during the Trump Administration, she and other career officials adjudicated denials of dozens of applications for security clearances that were later overturned,” Cummings wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
“As a result, she warned that security clearance applications for White House officials ‘were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security,’” Cummings wrote. “She also reported to the Committee that she has been targeted for retaliation after declining to grant security clearances based on longstanding national security protocols.”
As NBC News’ report added, Newbold “works as the adjudications manager in the Personnel Security Office, a position that allows her to handle security clearance determinations for senior officials in the White House.”
According to Cummings, she’s coming forward and urging the House Oversight Committee to take action in order to “bring the integrity back” to her White House office.
The efforts on Kushner’s behalf were problematic, but the sheer volume makes the story that much more serious. As we discussed in January, we appear to have a policy dynamic in which career experts on security clearances are almost never overruled – except in the Trump White House, where it’s apparently happened dozens of times.
As Rachel put it on the show a while back, at issue is a White House that has effectively been subverting the whole security clearance system so that people who would otherwise be rejected for clearances end up with access to secrets anyway.
The two overarching questions are of equal importance: why are members of Team Trump overruling the judgment of career officials so often, and why exactly are there are so many people on Team Trump who’ve struggled to earn security clearances though the usual vetting process?