President Trump is beginning to see the downside of having the Democrats in control of one of the Houses of Congress. The Government Oversight Committee run by Elijah Cummings is investigating security clearance procedures within the Executive Office of the President.
This investigation has resulted in the appearance of a “whistleblower” in the person of a mid-level bureaucrat named Tricia Newbold. This is from the carefully constructed version of her deposition released by the House Democrats:
During her interview with Committee staff, Ms. Newbold stated that White House security clearance applications “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security.” She explained that she and other career officials adjudicated denials of applications for multiple security clearances that were later overturned by senior officials in order to grant the employees access to classified information.
Ms. Newbold explained that, starting in 2018, she began to keep a list of White House employees whose denials were overturned. Her list eventually grew to 25 officials, including two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals throughout different components of the Executive Office of the President. According to Ms. Newbold, 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.
What is not being focused on is the very next thing she said:
Ms. Newbold explained that she fully understood that denials could be overruled, but she was concerned that these decisions were occurring without proper analysis, documentation, or a full understanding and acceptance of the risks. She stated:
[T]he President can overrule us, but we have an obligation to do our due diligence, to adjudicate that file the way we are supposed to. Once we adjudicate it, the President absolutely has the right to override and still grant the clearance, but we owe it to the President and the American people to do what is expected of us, and our job is to adjudicate national security adjudications regardless of influence.
She also stated: “[I]f the President wants to override us, he can, but that doesn’t mean at any time that we should alter the way we do business based on what someone may have come out with in the end.”
According to Ms. Newbold, her concern was that many security clearance denials were routinely overruled without following the proper protocols to document why senior officials disagreed with assessments and without memorializing the risks they were accepting.
This issue has dogged the Trump administration like no other administration because–in my opinion–the career staff in the White House was and is deeply politicized and has used leaks to undermine the Trump administration since Day One. We know, for instance, that Obama’s deputy national security advisor and one-man think tank, the failed Young Adult novelist Ben Rhodes, was denied a security clearance during the Obama transition because of his links to Tehran and somehow ended up with access to virtually every secret the nation possesses (see Was The FBI Pressured To Give A Top White House Adviser A Security Clearance?). This particular episode seems directly related to a leak back in February that made its way to the New York Times:
President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
I think we can fairly definitively identify the leaker now, no?
So, if the president has the statutory authority to overrule the recommendations (underline that word) of the White House personnel office, why is this an issue?
Aaron Blake, who fluffs Hillary Clinton and rando Democrats for the Washington Post helpfully explains in The White House whistleblower bombshell, and what it could mean (NARRATOR: It is not a bombshell and means nothing)
And this is merely the latest example of Trump and his administration flouting national security concerns with its day-to-day practices. To wit:
- He blurted out a highly classified piece of information to Russian leaders that risked jeopardizing a key foreign policy alliance.
- He has engaged in multiple highly secretive face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin where even top national security officials were in the dark.
- He kept Michael Flynn on as national security adviser for weeks despite warnings that Flynn could be susceptible to blackmail because he had lied to the White House. (ed: I’ve never been sure how this works, once your employer knows you’ve done something you are no longer susceptible to blackmail)
- He turned a dining room at Mar-a-Lago into an open-air situation room, strategizing about a North Korean missile launch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
- There have been reports that Trump has disregarded advice from security experts about his cellphone useand even that he has pressed forward with an unsecured phone we know the Russians and Chinese can listen in on.
- Multiple top White House aides have reportedly used private email to discuss White House matters, both potentially flouting records laws and posing unnecessary security threats.
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.
As you can see, this is just a prelude to a coordinated media attack on Trump being careless with national security information. Part of it is to damage him. Part of it is just juvenile payback because of the way he mauled Hillary Clinton over keeping several thousand classified documents on her own personal server which had been penetrated by numerous intelligence services.
Oddly enough, a lot of this bullsh** appeared in William Saletan’s cri de coeur which I wrote about over the weekend.
The RNC has responded, and here are their main points:
1. Ms. Newbold had limited firsthand knowledge on particular security applicants and, instead, focused her testimony primarily on problems with her supervisor.
2. Ms. Newbold testified that Kline overruled her recommendation with respect to Senior White House Official 1, but she has no direct knowledge as to why.
3. Ms. Newbold said she did not “work” on Senior White House Official 2’s application, but she would recommend against a clearance.
4. Ms. Newbold testified that Kline directed her to change her determination for a third White House Official, but that official never obtained a final security clearance.
5. Ms. Newbold testified that Kline overruled her on 25 applications—from senior White House officials to nonpolitical employees.
6. Ms. Newbold has filed EEOC and OSC complaints about her work environment at the White House, suggesting she is unhappy with her office.
7. Ms. Newbold has registered several complaints about Kline, her office, and other White House officials.
8. Ms. Newbold acknowledged that the President has ultimate control over security clearances, and that the Trump Administration is improving the process.
This exercise should be viewed for exactly what it is: a disgruntled employee bitching about her boss’s decisions and using a Congressional committee to grind her ax and bolster the grievances she has filed while, at the same time, giving her the bureaucratic Immunity Idol. (The NYT story is titled: White House Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work like it is an act of bravery; unless this woman commits a violent felony at work she is absolutely bulletproof.)
The President absolutely has the authority to grant security clearances where, in his opinion, there is no risk. In the case of Jared Kushner, the decision to not grant a clearance reeks of a political hit more than a reasoned judgment. Claiming that the President’s son-in-law is a security risk is really hard to rationally justify. The flip side to that is that if his judgment proves wrong, then he owns the damage.
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