A White House whistleblower told lawmakers that more than two dozen denials for security clearances have been overturned during the Trump administration, calling Congress her “last hope” for addressing what she considers improper conduct that has left the nation’s secrets exposed.
Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she and her colleagues issued “dozens” of denials for security clearance applications that were later approved despite their concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags, according to panel documents released Monday.
Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said she warned her superiors that clearances “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security” — and that she faced retaliation for doing so.
Newbold’s allegations intensify pressure on the White House over its handling of security clearances, a controversy that burst 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.
Newbold alleged that 25 individuals were given clearances or access to national security information since 2018 despite concerns about ties to foreign influence, conflicts of interests, questionable or criminal conduct, financial problems, or drug abuse.
That group includes “two current senior White House officials,” according to documents released by the House Oversight Committee.
The panel did not identify the senior White House officials but asked the White House to immediately provide documents related to the security clearances of nine officials, including Kushner, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and national security adviser John Bolton.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the committee chairman, said in a letter to the White House Counsel’s Office that his panel would vote on Tuesday to subpoena Carl Kline, who served as personnel security director at the White House during the first two years of the administration — the committee’s first compulsory move aimed at the White House.
Newbold alleged that Kline, then her direct manager, overruled her clearance denials and then retaliated against her when she objected.
Cummings vowed more subpoenas would follow if the White House did not cooperate with his panel’s investigation.
“The Committee has given the White House every possible opportunity to cooperate with this investigation, but you have declined,” Cummings wrote in the Monday letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone. “Your actions are now preventing the committee from obtaining the information it needs to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.”
The White House declined to comment, saying it does not comment on security clearances. An attorney for Kushner and Ivanka Trump referred questions to the White House. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on behalf of Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, and referred questions to the White House.
In a letter to the committee, Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Kline, said Kline is willing to voluntarily testify but said his testimony may be constrained by executive privilege issues.
“Neither Carl nor I are worried about the merits of this inquiry, as facts always win out in the end,” Driscoll said in a statement.
In a statement, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, accused Cummings of politicizing an issue that should be bipartisan.
“Chairman Cummings’ investigation is not about restoring integrity to the security clearance process, it is an excuse to go fishing through the personal files of dedicated public servants,” Jordan said.
Republicans said Cummings “cherry-picked” excerpts of the closed-door interview with Newbold, which they said GOP members were unable to attend because they were only told about it the previous afternoon.
In a memo sent to panel members Monday afternoon, the committee’s Republican staff characterized Newbold as a disgruntled employee with limited knowledge of how security clearance decisions were actually made.
The memo also said Newbold testified that of the 25 clearance decisions she made that were overruled, only four or five had been originally denied for “very serious reasons.”
Newbold did not respond to a request for comment.
In her interview with the House Oversight Committee, Newbold said that she felt compelled to come forward.
“I would not be doing a service to myself, my country, or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security,” she told the committee, according to a panel document summarizing her allegations.
She said she had previously lodged concerns with numerous White House officials, including Kline; his immediate supervisor, Chief Operations Officer Samuel Price; the White House Counsel’s Office; assistant to the president Marcia Kelly; and Chief Security Officer Crede Bailey.
Newbold added: “I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office.”
She told the panel that she knew her denials of security clearances could be overruled. But she said she was concerned about a lack of documentation of what went into those decisions and that they were made “without memorializing the risks they were accepting.”
In the case of one top White House official, described as “Official 1” in committee documents, Newbold said that she and another employee denied the official a security clearance after a background investigation revealed “significant disqualifying factors,” including foreign influence, outside business interests and personal conduct.
But Kline overruled their determination. In his decision, he “failed to address all of the disqualifying concerns listed by Ms. Newbold and the first-line adjudicator,” according to a committee summary of her response.
Instead, Kline merely noted that Official 1’s activities “occurred prior to Federal service,” according to the panel.
NBC News previously reported that Kline overruled a decision by two career White House security specialists to deny Kushner a clearance.
When Official 1 applied for an even higher level of clearance, Newbold said that another agency contacted her to determine “how we rendered a favorable adjudication,” an inquiry she said reflected the agency’s “serious concerns.”
The agency was not identified in committee documents. The CIA is the agency responsible for granting White House officials access to government information classified above top secret.
“CIA does not comment on individual security clearances,” agency spokesman Timothy L. Barrett said.
Newbold also accused Kline of telling her to, in effect, stand down on concerns about another senior White House official, described as “Official 2.”
She said that a first-line reviewer wrote a 14-page memo describing factors that would disqualify Official 2 from receiving a clearance, including foreign influence and outside activities.
But when Newbold told Kline of her plan to agree with her colleague on the matter, Kline “instructed Ms. Newbold, ‘do not touch’ the case.”
Kline later approved the security clearance, she said.
Newbold also accused Kline of trying to get her to change her recommendation for a security clearance denial for a “high-profile official at the National Security Council” described as “Official 3,” with whom she said Kline was in daily contact on the phone.
Kline “called me in his office and asked me to change the recommendation. I said I absolutely would not,” according to her testimony.
Newbold also told Kline that he shouldn’t be talking with the individual trying to get the clearance because it was “unprofessional” and “it was opening up the door to hinder him from making a fair, unbiased recommendation.”
Official 3 never received a security clearance and is no longer at the White House, according to the House committee.
Concerns about the White House security clearance process came to a head in February 2018 after the revelation that staff secretary Rob Porter had access to highly classified material after his two ex-wives had told the FBI that he abused them.
In the wake of the scandal, then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly sought to overhaul the clearance process and revoked the ability of staffers to operate under interim clearances.
That downgraded Kushner’s access from “Top Secret/SCI” level to the “Secret” level, a far lower level of access to classified information, The Washington Post previously reported.
However, Trump demanded Kelly give Kushner a top-secret security clearance — a move that made Kelly so uncomfortable that he documented the request in writing, according to current and former administration officials.
In her interview with the House Oversight Committee, Newbold complimented Kelly, who she said was “very receptive and understanding” of her concerns.
Newbold expressed fear in coming forward, telling the panel, “I’m terrified of going back. I know that this will not be perceived in favor of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office.”
She said she has already faced retaliation for declining to issue security clearances and challenging her superiors as they sought to implement changes to the clearance process that she disagreed with during the Trump administration.
Newbold said she was suspended without pay for 14 days in late January despite “no prior formal disciplinary action” in her nearly two-decade tenure. And when she returned, she was removed from her position as a “second-level adjudicator” on security clearances and was no longer a direct supervisor.
The committee in its Monday memo revealed that it has spoken with other whistleblowers about the security clearance process. For now, however, the individuals were too afraid about the “risk to their careers to come forward publicly,” the panel wrote.
Alice Crites, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner contributed to this report.