House Oversight panel votes to subpoena ex-White House official on security clearance concerns

Key Points
  • The House Oversight Committee votes to subpoena a former White House security director, after a whistleblower claims about 25 people received security clearances despite officials recommending they be denied.
  • The Democrat-led panel also votes to authorize subpoenas about the Trump administration's decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.
  • During an interview with the committee, whistleblower Tricia Newbold reportedly speaks of "grave security risks she has been witnessing first-hand over the past two years."
Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks with staff before the start of the House Oversight and Reform Committee markup of a resolution authorizing issuance of subpoenas related to security clearances and the 2020 Census on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

The House Oversight Committee voted Tuesday to subpoena a former White House security director based on a whistleblower's claims that about 25 people in President Donald Trump's administration received security clearances despite officials recommending that their applications be denied.

The resolution authorizing that subpoena passed on a 22-15 party-line vote.

The Democrat-led panel also voted 23-14 to issue subpoenas related to the administration's decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.

Whistleblower Tricia Newbold, who has been a security clearance official for 18 years, spoke with Republicans and Democrats on the committee in a private interview on March 23, according to Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

During the interview, Newbold spoke of "grave security risks she has been witnessing first-hand over the past two years," Cummings told White House counsel Pat Cipollone in a letter Tuesday.

According to Cummings, the whistleblower said the list of approximately 25 individuals whose denials were overruled "had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct."

Cummings told Cipollone in the letter that his first subpoena would be for a deposition of Carl Kline, who was the director of White House personnel security during Trump's first two years in office.

Kline reportedly suspended Newbold for two weeks without pay in January — days after Kline reportedly overruled security officials' recommendation Jared Kushner be denied a top secret clearance. NBC News reported that her suspension decision notice said that action was taken for Newbold's defiance of authority.

Newbold said she was retaliated against for raising national security concerns about processes being followed and the experience of staffers in her office.

Cummings wrote in his letter to Cipollone that Kline hadn't responded to multiple letters from the committee in February and March requesting a voluntary interview. In a letter to Cummings, however, Kline's attorney wrote that Kline "would like to voluntarily appear for a proposed deposition" and that a subpoena would be an "extreme and unnecessary step," NBC reported Tuesday.

But Cummings said in the hearing that there were strings attached to Kline's compliance. "He will not answer any of our questions about specific officials, about specific security violations, or about specific security clearance adjudications," Cummings said. "Instead, he will only talk about the general policies. This is clearly not sufficient, and he knows that."

The committee also passed a resolution allowing a subpoena of Attorney General William Barr for a raft of records related to the Trump administration's controversial move of adding a question to the 2020 census asking if respondents are U.S. citizens.

That resolution also authorized subpoenas of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for emails and other records, and of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore for testimony before the committee.

"The Department remains committed to an open and responsive relationship with the Committee and has been nothing but cooperative with the Committee's expansive and detailed requests for records," Ross said in a statement after the vote.

"As of today, we have turned over 11,500 pages of documents to the Committee, and I voluntarily testified in front of the same Committee for nearly seven hours on this issue two weeks ago," Ross added.

The administration has been sued by multiple states and organizations to remove the citizenship question, which they argue will have a chilling effect on immigrants and communities of color. That could have significant implications for different groups' representation for a decade, when the next census is taken.