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Former White House official accused in security clearance dispute to face House committee

Tricia Newbold, a manager in the Personnel Security Office of the White House, questioned the security clearances of 25 employees in the White House in March. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

A former White House official accused of overturning recommended denials for security clearances during the Trump administration will appear before the House Oversight Committee on April 23, his lawyer told the panel in a letter Wednesday, despite his counsel’s pleas to postpone his testimony.

Carl Kline, who served as the White House personnel security director during the first two years of the Trump administration, will appear for the deposition as part of the panel’s long-standing investigation into security clearances under President Trump. The committee subpoenaed Kline in early April after a whistleblower in his office, Tricia Newbold, alleged that the White House was acting recklessly with the nation’s secrets by granting security clearances to individuals whom employees like her found unworthy.

“I regret the circumstances that have resulted in the committee on Oversight and Reform electing to subpoena Carl Kline, despite our legitimate offer to have him appear voluntarily,” wrote Kline’s lawyer Robert N. Driscoll in his letter to the panel, confirming his deposition date. 

The Trump administration is under scrutiny for bucking the established security clearance procedure once again - this time, for 25 administration officials. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Newbold, a nearly two-decade veteran of the security-clearance process who still works in the White House, told the committee in late March that Kline overruled multiple clearance-denial recommendations and then retaliated against her when she objected. One of those was the clearance application for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top White House adviser, The Washington Post has reported.

Jared Kushner identified as senior White House official whose security clearance was denied by career officials

Newbold said she and her colleagues counted at least 25 security-clearance denial recommendations that had been approved since 2018 despite red flags about applicants’ foreign contacts, conflicts of interest, past criminality, drug use or other misconduct.

In his letter to the panel, Driscoll made a last-ditch effort to convince the committee to reach out to the White House before bringing his client in to answer questions. He said he was “anticipating conflicts” because ultimately the White House Counsel’s Office — not Kline — will determine whether he can testify about topics that may be covered by executive privilege, he said. 

“By corollary, it is not Mr. Kline’s role to comment on the strength of any such assertions, but to comply with instructions from the White House regarding appropriate scope of testimony,” Driscoll said. “I fully understand you may not see things the same way, but it is my sincere hope that we can avoid a harmful and costly inter-branch dispute that has a 40-plus year public servant and military veteran hanging in the balance.”

House panel votes to subpoena former White House official over security clearances

Driscoll said he wrote the panel asking them to consider withdrawing the Kline subpoena and instead first serve the White House a compulsory measure for records the panel wants Kline to answer questions about. After the White House and Oversight Committee have agreed on a scope of the investigation, he said, then his client could testify. 

“Proceeding otherwise, in my view, would unfairly drag a career civil servant into a dispute he has no control over, cannot take a position in, and cannot provide substantive solutions or responses to, all while still having to incur legal fees,” he wrote.

But the White House has refused to cooperate with the oversight probe for nearly two years, according to officials on the committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the committee chairman, began investigating the matter at the beginning of the Trump administration and has received few answers to his questions — even now, with Democrats in the majority.

An Oversight Committee Democratic source said, “There is no cause for further delay since this interview was first requested in January and repeated three times since then — with no response from Mr. Kline whatsoever until after we announced we were voting on a subpoena.”

The source said that “Mr. Kline’s last-minute offer to testify voluntarily rings hollow since he is refusing — to this day — to answer questions about actions he took with respect to any specific individuals the committee is investigating.”

Driscoll also suggested the panel look into security clearances issued under the Obama administration, arguing that critics at the time also objected to some senior Obama advisers being given access to the nation’s top secrets. He said the panel should subpoena records on the security clearance applications and background checks of former White House advisers Ben Rhodes, Valerie Jarett and Jay Carney.  

“These files will provide an apples-to-apples comparison to best evaluate claims concerning Mr. Kline’s process for high-profile security-clearance candidates (if any) and whether his own conduct was somehow unusual (if at all),” Driscoll wrote.

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