Of course it is difficult not to savor the irony in a White House whistleblower’s claim that the Trump administration improperly granted security clearances to more than two dozen individuals. As a candidate, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton’s use of a insecure private email server to transact State Department business was corruption “on a scale we have never seen before.” Now, after all those years of “lock her up” chants, Trump’s own administration stands accused of playing fast and loose with the nation’s secrets.
But the complaint by Tricia Newbold, a career employee, that the White House overrode the recommendations of her and her colleagues is more than just ironic; it is alarming in itself. Newbold, an adjudications manager in the White House Personnel Security Office, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the clearances were granted despite disqualifying issues including “foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct.”
Speculation that the clearance process has been politicized predates Newbold’s accusations. In February, the Washington Post reported that Trump ordered John F. Kelly, then his chief of staff, to grant Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance, despite the concerns of career intelligence officials. (What’s most remarkable, frankly, isn’t that Kushner received a clearance; it’s that such a novice has been entrusted by his father-in-law with responsibility for fashioning a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the Oversight Committee, complained this week that the administration has been unforthcoming as his committee has sought to investigate the security clearances. On Tuesday, the committee voted to authorize a subpoena for Carl Kline, who served until recently as the personnel security director at the White House.
As Cummings conceded, the president has the authority to grant security clearances. But Cummings noted that Congress had an oversight interest in monitoring “who has been given access to our nation’s secrets, how they obtained that access, the extent to which national security has been compromised,” among other things.
This isn’t a partisan concern. Last year, Cummings’ Republican predecessor as chair of the committee, Trey Gowdy, sent a letter to Kelly seeking information on the security clearance process. The White House should stop stonewalling and cooperate with the committee if it wants to dispel the impression that it has doled out security clearances irresponsibly to individuals who don’t deserve them.
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