TRICIA NEWBOLD, the whistleblower with concerns about granting national security clearances, has told a House committee that she fully realized President Trump has the legal authority to award his appointees access to the nation’s secrets if he so chooses. What upset her was that, when staff concerns were raised about certain clearances for certain appointees, the worries were repeatedly swept aside. Her alarming statements raise anew the question about whether Mr. Trump and his White House have been reckless in handling this essential process to protect the nation’s secrets. Congress must find out.
A few weeks ago, concerns were raised about Mr. Trump ordering an upgrade in the level of access for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, essentially overriding concerns of the intelligence community. Now Ms. Newbold suggests this was not an isolated example. In 25 cases, she says, the White House has shunted aside information that might disqualify an appointee from handling national security secrets. “According to Ms. Newbold,” the House Oversight and Reform Committee said in a memorandum, “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.”
In effect, Ms. Newbold claims the system is broken. She is quoted as saying, “And I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back to our office.” She is an 18-year career employee of the Executive Office of the President, who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans. For her concerns, she was targeted for retaliation, she says, being put on leave without pay for 14 days.
Ms. Newbold has shown great principle and courage in going public, and her account, as outlined by the committee, suggests that White House officials in higher positions have behaved cavalierly and carelessly. For example, in the case of “Senior White House Official 1,” as the committee described it, Ms. Newbold and another official judged that the clearance should be denied. They found the background check into the individual had unearthed several “significant disqualifying factors,” including possible vulnerability to foreign influence, outside employment activity, and personal conduct. But her boss, the director of the Personnel Security Office, overruled the determination on the simple grounds that “the activities occurred prior to federal service.” She detailed other examples, too, such as being told, after another senior official got a disqualifying recommendation, “do not touch” the case. The official then got a clearance. None of the officials are identified.
The law allows Mr. Trump to grant security clearances at his own discretion. He has made it obvious that what he prizes most in appointees is extreme personal fealty. But this is about something else: fealty to the security of the nation. Mr. Trump has a duty to be a steward of its secrets. Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) has properly announced further investigation of Ms. Newbold’s revelations.