A whistleblower from inside the White House has told congressional investigators that senior Trump administration officials granted national security clearances to at least 25 people that government reviewers had rejected for an array of concerns.
The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, said the officials, cleared for security credentials after career employees recommended they be denied, include two current unnamed senior White House officials, government contractors, and other staff aides working for the office of President Donald Trump.
Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process under both Republican and Democratic presidents, last month told investigators for the House Oversight and Reform Committee that while Trump had the right as president to overrule career employees’ denials of the security badges, the officials’ clearances “were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security.”
The committee chairman, Congressman Elijah Cummings, told the panel’s members that Newbold told investigators that those eventually cleared by senior Trump administration officials “had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.”
Newbold told investigators she had been suspended for 14 days without pay earlier this year after protesting internally about the way in which the security clearance denials had been overturned and now was worried about returning to work after she decided to go public with her concerns.
“I’m terrified of going back,” she told investigators. “I know that this will not be perceived in favor of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office.”
But Newbold said she decided to become a whistleblower because “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.”
Cummings’s memo on Newbold’s statements to investigators did not identify any of the officials who have been granted security clearances against the recommendations of the security reviewers.
But the panel said it is reviewing the clearances given to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, both of whom are White House advisers, and national security adviser John Bolton. News accounts earlier this year said Trump had personally intervened last year to overrule then-White House chief of staff John Kelly to grant a clearance to Kushner, a move Kelly found so unsettling that he recorded Trump’s direction to him in a memo.
Cummings, in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, said he “has given the White House every possible opportunity to cooperate with the investigation, but you have declined. Your actions are now preventing the committee from obtaining the information it needs to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.”
Cummings said his panel would vote Tuesday to subpoena Newbold’s former boss, Carl Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, along with five other current and former White House officials involved with the security reviews to testify about their role in the clearances.
The White House had no immediate comment on the security clearance issues. (VOA)
The Trump administration is considering more dramatic cuts to the U.S. refugee program, with one official suggesting the White House not allow any refugees into the country in the coming fiscal year.
In a Politico report released Thursday, government officials from several federal agencies attended a meeting last week and discussed several options that included a ceiling of 10,000 — well below the current refugee ceiling of 30,000, which is already an all-time low for the program.
The U.S. resettled 23,190 refugees since the beginning of fiscal 2019 last October. With 2½ months remaining until the count resets, the U.S. is on track to fall short of this year’s cap, according to U.S. State Department data.
Since the so-called “refugee ceiling” is an upper limit, and not a quota, the government is not required to meet the annual admissions number.
Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of the primary refugee resettlement nongovernmental organizations in the U.S., said he has heard multiple figures proposed for the coming fiscal year, all well below the program’s historical annual threshold of around 60,000 to 70,000.
In President Barack Obama’s last year two years in office, his administration made a concerted effort to increase the number of admitted refugees, with a particular focus on Syrians fleeing conflict and persecution.
And since the U.S. president is the one who ultimately makes the final decision when it comes to the number of refugee admissions, President Donald Trump has leeway to further reduce the total allowed.
“The president hasn’t made an actual decision, that won’t happen till October. But I suspect they’re testing the waters a bit to see if, in fact, the public will respond to this, and if there will be any public outrage,” Arbeiter told VOA. “So it is a proposed number, it is not a final number, but a number anywhere between zero, and we’ve heard 3,000, 7,000 10,000, but anywhere in that range, what it effectively does is it closes the door on refugees, and effectively constitutes a total ban on refugees.”
Earlier ban attempts
Trump repeatedly attempted a ban on refugees with multiple executive orders on travel during his first year in office, citing “national security” concerns. Those worries, however, were not substantiated by data and no scientific study demonstrates a correlation between refugee admissions and elevated crime or security risks.
Each year, the president makes an annual determination, after appropriate consultation with Congress, regarding the refugee admissions ceiling for the following fiscal year. That determination is expected to be made before the start of fiscal 2020 on Oct. 1, 2019.
The U.S. State Department is one of the leading agencies involved in the deliberation process with the White House over refugee admissions. In an emailed statement Friday, a spokesperson reiterated the president makes the decision on the ceiling every year “after appropriate consultation with Congress.”
Beyond that, however, the spokesperson said the State Department would “not discuss internal and interagency deliberations or communications involved in such deliberations.” Last year, however, the White House was criticized by members of Congress after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the fiscal 2019 cap would be 30,000, before the legally required meetings with Capitol Hill lawmakers happened. (VOA)