Donald Trump and his administration awarded security clearance to at least 25 individuals whose clearances had been denied by the nation’s top-ranking security officials, a whistleblower alleges, claiming the breach of protocol exposes the U.S. to grave national security risks.
Whistleblower Tricia Newbold, a White House security specialist who has vetted candidates to high-ranking offices for nearly 20 years, came forward with the allegations, saying she was targeted for retaliation by her superior for refusing to grant security clearances to individuals whose backgrounds and activities didn’t square with longstanding national security protocols.
Ms. Newbold, who served as the Adjudications Manager in the Personnel Security Office, says dozens of individuals had been denied a security clearance over concerns about potential blackmail, foreign influence, conflicts of interest, questionable conduct, criminal activity, financial issues and drug abuse.
But many of those denied clearances have been reversed in an unprecedented manner and scale by the Trump administration. Ms. Newbold explained to the House Oversight Committee 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.”
According to Ms. Newbold, highly sensitive and thorough background check documents were not properly secured, and officials stopped performing credit checks for potential employees. She told the House Oversight committee that she had “never seen our office so ill-staffed and with such lack of experience.”
Several Republican lawmakers and pundits have defended Trump’s reversal of denied security clearances despite Ms. Newbold’s warnings. They maintain that the president has the legal authority to overturn security clearance denials at his discretion. While it is true that granting a security clearance to someone formally denied one is within the president’s legal rights, “it is unheard of for the president or his political appointees to overrule the adjudications of career security specialists,” as The New York Times points out.
In an April 1 letter to White House Counsel Pat Cippolone, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote of Ms. Newbold that “she has come forward at great personal risk to warn Congress—and the nation—about the grave security risks she has been witnessing first-hand over the past two years.”
“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,” Ms. Newbold said, according to Rep. Cummings.
“Yet, despite these risks, [Ms. Newbold] has agreed to identify herself publicly at this time because she strongly believes that Congress must intervene immediately to safeguard our national security,” Rep. Cummings wrote. “She implored the Committee to act now, warning that ‘this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office.’”
Calling out wrongdoing often squeezes whistleblowers into a precarious position between their conscience and their career. Ms. Newbold, who has a rare type of dwarfism, alleges the retaliation took several forms. She says her supervisors humiliated her by placing files and other items she needed out of her reach. She also testified that her supervisor, Carl Kline, lashed back at her by demoting her and then suspending her employment without pay.
Outside the office, Ms. Newbold has fallen under attack by several right-wing critics who say her claims of sloppy security clearance processes under the Trump administration are part of an ongoing, politically motivated “witch hunt” by lawmakers seeking to oust Trump. But considering Ms. Newbold maintained a flawless employment record in national security for nearly two decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations, those allegations themselves likely lack credibility.
“As little as I am, I’m willing to fight and stand up for what I know is right, and they’ve always respected that about me,” Ms. Newbold told the House committee. “It’s humiliating to not be able to independently work and do the job that you need.”