A key House committee was gripped by infighting Monday as Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., released details of whistleblower allegations that dozens of people in the Trump administration were granted security clearances despite "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds.
Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversees the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, said she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year because of their backgrounds. But she said senior Trump aides overturned those decisions, despite it not being "in the best interest of national security."
Newbold's allegations were detailed in a letter and memo released Monday by Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform committee.
The move prompted a fiery retort from top committee Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, whose office described the publication of the information as “reckless.”
“It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that Chairman Cummings is now using this sensitive topic as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House,” Jordan said in a statement. “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.”
He complained that Newbold’s interview was only conducted Saturday morning – and Republicans “were not informed of the interview's topic or witness until 3:30 the day before.” He also said some of the 25 examples cited included “non-political officials such as a GSA custodian.”
Jordan continued: “Chairman Cummings has departed from longstanding bipartisan oversight of the security clearance process to advance his partisan efforts to attack the President. His unilateral decision to release cherry-picked excerpts from one witness so early into an investigation is far from the constructive oversight he promised."
The oversight panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former White House aide Rob Porter.
The letter comes about a month after The New York Times reported that Trump ordered officials to grant Kushner a clearance over the objections of national security officials and after Newbold spoke out to NBC News and other news outlets about her concerns. It also sets the stage for another fight between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House. Cummings said he will move this week to authorize his first subpoena in the probe.
Cummings said the subpoena will be for the deposition of Carl Kline, who served as the White House personnel security director and supervised Newbold. He has since left the White House for the Defense Department.
Newbold laid out her experience in the White House during a March 23 interview with bipartisan committee staff. Portions of that interview were in the memo released by Cummings.
According to the memo, Newbold's list of overturned security clearance denials included "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," the memo says.
Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file.
Newbold said that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process and removed from a supervisory responsibility.
Cummings' memo doesn't identify the officials on Newbold's list. The committee has previously singled out Flynn, Porter and Kushner as it sought records from the White House about how their clearances were handled.
Flynn maintained his clearance even after the White House learned he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's ambassador and that he was under federal investigation by the Justice Department for his previous foreign work.
Kushner failed to initially disclose numerous foreign meetings on security clearance forms, and according to the Times, career officials recommended against granting him one before Trump personally overruled them.
Porter had high-level access with an interim security clearance even though the FBI repeatedly told the White House of past allegations of domestic violence lodged against him by two ex-wives.
Porter resigned after the allegations becoming public.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.