A House panel voted Tuesday to subpoena a former White House official accused of overturning denials for security clearances after a whistleblower complained that the Trump administration had put the nation’s most guarded secrets in jeopardy.
The Oversight and Reform Committee voted 22 to 15, along party lines, to force Carl Kline, the former White House personnel security director, to answer questions as part of its ongoing investigation into the security-clearance process.
The move represents one of the committee’s first compulsory measures aimed at the administration and follows whistleblower Tricia Newbold’s allegation that Trump’s White House has behaved recklessly with national security.
Newbold, a nearly two-decade veteran of the security-clearance process who still works in the White House, told the panel in late March that Kline, then her direct manager, overruled multiple clearance denials and then retaliated against her when she objected.
Newbold also said she has counted more than 25 security-clearance denials that had been approved since 2018 despite red flags about applicants’ foreign contacts, conflicts of interest, past criminality, drug use or other misconduct.
“She strongly believed that Congress must intervene . . . to safeguard our national security,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the committee, said Tuesday, summarizing Newbold’s message. “She’s begging us to do something because she simply wants her government to work the way it’s supposed to work.”
In an interview with NBC News that aired Monday night, Newbold said she was compelled to act out of a sense of duty to protect the country.
“The protection of national security is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue — it’s a United States issue,” she said. “And we as security professionals owe it to make all our recommendations in the best interest of national security.”
She described Kline’s actions as “definitely humiliating” but said that “didn’t stop me from doing what was right.”
The committee move ramps up pressure on the White House over its handling of security clearances, an issue that came into public view last year with the revelation that dozens of staffers had temporary approvals to access sensitive government information while they awaited clearance approval.
Among them was presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who President Trump ultimately demanded be granted a permanent top-secret clearance, despite the concerns of intelligence officials.
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. Those four nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.
It is unclear whether any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.
Kushner on Monday dismissed concerns by Newbold about the White House security-clearance process. He told Fox host Laura Ingraham that he could not comment for the White House on the process, “but I can say over the last two years that I’ve been here, I’ve been accused of all different types of things and all of those things have turned out to be false. We’ve had a lot of crazy accusations, like that we colluded with Russia.”
Kushner was referring to conclusions of a report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered to senior leaders at the Justice Department. After reviewing the report, Attorney General William P. Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress last week, saying Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Republicans argued Tuesday that Trump has the authority to do whatever he wants with security clearances and criticized Democrats for giving them short notice before the Newbold interview, which occurred on a Saturday.
“You issue a big press release after interviewing one witness?” complained Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “That’s how we’re going to do investigations in the Oversight Committee? Talk to one person, and then issue a big press statement so you can get some headlines?”
Cummings countered that the late notice to Republicans was to protect Newbold, who implored the panel to hold off on telling lawmakers about her complaints until after she had left work the previous day. Republicans were notified Friday afternoon before the nine-hour Saturday session with Newbold.
Tuesday’s subpoena is unlikely to be the committee’s last on the matter. Cummings has warned that his panel will approve additional compulsory measures should the White House refuse to cooperate with his probe.
The White House has argued that the Oversight Committee has no authority to question the president on security-clearance matters and has refused to give the committee a single document.
Republicans concurred with that assessment Tuesday.
“He’s the president of the United States!” said Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.).
Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, oversaw the security-clearance process during the first two years of the Trump administration. Newbold said Kline routinely “failed to address” a list of disqualifying concerns discovered by employees who vetted candidates.
NBC News previously reported that Kline overruled a decision by two career White House security specialists to deny Kushner a clearance.
Newbold also accused Kline of telling her to, in effect, stand down when she and another colleague raised concerns about another senior White House official. And she said Kline asked her to change a denial for a “high-profile official at the National Security Council” whom she said Kline was in daily contact with on the phone.
Kline’s attorney has asked the committee not to subpoena him and offered to allow his client to appear voluntarily, a point Republicans held up Tuesday to argue Cummings was being heavy-handed with a witness.
But Cummings said Kline will not answer questions about specific security-clearance applications or violations — details the chairman wants.
“They cannot stonewall and stall this committee for months and then just offer general information about their policies,” Cummings said, “not when there are such serious allegations of a breach to national security.”
In a statement Tuesday, Kline attorney Robert N. Driscoll said: “Carl Kline wished to appear voluntarily before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the White House approved his voluntary appearance. Yet, the Committee chose not to allow that. The subpoena issued today does not change Mr. Kline’s willingness to appear before the Committee to answer its legitimate questions truthfully. The facts will prove that he acted appropriately at all times.”
Without naming him, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) railed against Kushner’s use of WhatsApp to communicate with acquaintances abroad, an allegation made by a committee Democrat who spoke with his attorney about the matter last year. Kushner’s attorney has denied the claim.
“What is next? Putting nuclear codes in Instagram DMs?” she asked. “This is ridiculous.”
Felicia Sonmez and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.