The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The White House whistleblower bombshell, and what it could mean

The White House has repeatedly shunned national security protocols when it comes to protecting information and clearances. And a named person stepping forward is a significant development.

In 2018, President Trump ordered chief of staff John Kelly to give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance, despite officials' concerns. (Video: Reuters)

It wasn’t that long ago that Donald Trump ran for president making the case that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state represented a grave national security threat and made her unfit for office.

Evidence is now mounting that he and his White House have taken plenty of their own shortcuts, with the kind of dire implications Trump warned about. And now a key figure is stepping forward to blow the whistle on it.

The Post’s Rachael Bade reports on a new White House whistleblower who alleges that the Trump administration has awarded 25 security clearances to people who had been denied those clearances by national security officials.

Tricia Newbold has served 18 years in the security clearance process, in both Democratic and Republican administrations. She says the denials had been issued for reasons including concerns about potential blackmail, foreign influence, conflicts of interest, questionable or criminal conduct, financial issues and drug abuse. That’s a range of denials that covers pretty much all the major reasons one might not get cleared. She alleges that the administration has looked past all of them. She even says she was told not to raise concerns and retaliated against when she did, by being demoted.

By itself, the accusation would be serious. But it also affirms a whole host of reporting, and there seem to be plenty of people raising the same red flag. The Washington Post and others reported recently that Trump demanded that then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly get a long-delayed clearance for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kelly, a retired general, was reportedly so uncomfortable with the request that he memorialized it in a memo. The New York Times has reported that the then-White House counsel also wrote a memo to similar effect. Newbold has told the House Oversight Committee that another agency involved in the clearance process also complained. And the committee says other anonymous whistleblowers have come forward. In other words, there seem to be lots of people who could vouch for Newbold.

And this is merely the latest example of Trump and his administration flouting national security concerns with its day-to-day practices. To wit:

The hypocrisy side of it is one thing. This is a president, after all, who once said merely being negligent about email was disqualifying. He said Clinton was “putting all of America and our citizens in danger — great danger.” He added on Facebook that it was “a profound national security risk.”

But even setting that aside, the evidence of a fast-and-loose and even negligent approach to information security is building. One longtime national security aide has apparently thought it serious enough to go through the arduous process of being a public whistleblower, and she will apparently have some backup — both from other people and from documentation.

In many ways, the argument that Trump could be either a witting or unwitting asset of the Russians is missing the much less speculative potential national security threat. And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a named whistleblower stepping forward in this manner.