Whistleblower behind latest White House scandal immediately goes back to work for Trump

'As you can imagine, I am extremely nervous how people at work will treat me'

Katie Rogers
Tuesday 02 April 2019 10:29 BST
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Tricia Newbold, the Trump administration’s latest whistleblower, did something unexpected only hours after a House committee released her deposition that the White House had overruled career staff members who denied security clearances: she went back to work.

“As you can imagine,” Ms Newbold, 39, an employee of the White House Personnel Security Office, wrote in an email during her commute Monday, “I am extremely nervous for how people at work will treat me.”

But according to people close to her, she was not afraid to tell them about the things she had seen.

Ms Newbold’s decision to accuse her own office of rampant mismanagement of the security clearances of at least 25 employees came after months of what she characterised as personal discrimination and professional retaliation from Carl Kline, the office’s former director, after she spent about a year trying to raise issues internally.

In a White House where aggressive leak investigations are conducted in service of President Donald Trump, who has aides sign nondisclosure agreements, Ms Newbold’s account represents the rarest of developments: a damning on-the-record account from a current employee inside his ranks.

“She wasn’t looking for trouble,” Ms Newbold’s lawyer, Edward Passman, said Monday. “And she wasn’t looking to go public. But her back was to the wall, and she did what she had to do.”

Described as both “no nonsense” and “intense” by people who have interacted with her during the clearance process, Ms Newbold has served under four presidential administrations, beginning with the Clinton White House in 2000.

Eventually, she worked her way up to adjudications manager, a job that required her to help make determinations about the security clearances of administration employees.

Her office is filled with holdovers from other administrations, and it is meant to be nonpartisan.

Yet in the Trump administration, the office was filled with people who had little experience in vetting employees in the interest of national security, Ms Newbold said in a nine-hour deposition with the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week.

“There was no resolution,” Ms Newbold told the committee, according to a lengthy summary letter the panel’s Democratic chairman published of her interview, which contained verbatim quotes.

“And I feel that right now this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office.”

Ms Newbold told the committee that at least two senior administration officials had been granted security clearances — which gave them access to classified information — despite possible disqualifying issues.

She also told the committee that she had compiled a list of at least 25 individuals, including contractors and senior advisers, who had a “wide range” of disqualifying information, including drug use, financial problems and criminal conduct.

In February, The New York Times reported that the president overruled several senior officials in order to reinstate the security clearance of Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, despite issues raised during his clearance process.

John Kelly, the president’s former chief of staff, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr Kushner the top-secret clearance.

In her interviews with the House committee, Ms Newbold said that Mr Kelly and former Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin had been attentive to the national security issues she had tried to raise.

Mr Hagin resigned in June and Kelly in December.

Trump has the legal authority to grant a clearance, but in most cases, the White House’s personnel security office makes a determination about whether to grant one after the FBI has conducted a background check.

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Democrats on the committee are also demanding information from the White House about Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and adviser, who was granted a security clearance shortly after Mr Kushner got his.

In an interview with ABC News in February, Ivanka Trump insisted her father had no hand in either her clearance or her husband’s.

Ms Newbold, who has a rare form of dwarfism, also accused Kline, the former director of personnel security, of retaliating against her when she repeatedly pointed out to him that actions he was taking, including overriding recommendations to issue clearances to two senior officials, were violating protocol.

She said that Kline oversaw a workplace where files — including extensive and sensitive background check documents — were not secured properly, and stopped the performing of credit checks for potential employees.

Ms Newbold told the House committee that she had “never seen our office so ill-staffed and with such lack of experience.”

In fall of last year, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing Mr Kline of moving office files to a shelf several feet above her, deliberately out of her reach, beginning in December 2017. That month, she hired Mr Passman, her lawyer.

“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 last week. “It’s humiliating to not be able to independently work and do the job that you need.”

In January, she was suspended for two weeks without pay after NBC News reported that Mr Kline had approved a security clearance for Mr Kushner despite staff objections.

The office’s new director, Crede Bailey, said at the time that Ms Newbold had refused to “support new procedures your supervisor implemented.”

Within the past two weeks, Mr Passman said she was also removed from her supervisory role at work. On Monday, the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she could expect to continue in her job.

In the evening, Ms Newbold’s lawyer said she had gone back to work without incident.

Also on Monday, Elijah Cummings, the committee’s chairman, called for a subpoena for Kline, who now works at the Defence Department, to learn more about his work when he was the director of the office and about his interactions with Ms Newbold.

In a letter to Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, Cummings said that the Trump administration had refused to provide information about “the problematic practices of the White House Security Office over the past two years”.

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Republicans on the committee quickly sought to minimise what Ms Newbold actually knew about the senior officials whose clearances were overturned.

In a memo released Monday, they said Cummings used only “cherry-picked excerpts” from her deposition, and said she had acknowledged that the president has the “authority to grant access to national security information to anyone he chooses”.

The Republican members also pointed out that she had positive things to say about Bailey, her current supervisor.

Mr Passman said Bailey’s two-week suspension of Newbold was “unwarranted”, but added that “he’s not personally attacking her like Kline did”.

It did not surprise Mr Passman or other people close to Ms Newbold that she returned to work — her choice to continue “kind of speaks for itself” about the kind of person she is, her older sister, Melissa Rahming, said Monday. “She’s not afraid for what she’s said,” Rahming said, adding that her sister had “held her integrity this entire time.”

Daniel Jacobson, a former associate counsel in the Obama White House, called Ms Newbold a “serious security professional” and a “total straight shooter” in a tweet Monday.

The New York Times

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