WASHINGTON - A Democratic-controlled congressional panel on Tuesday subpoenaed a former White House security clearance chief to answer questions about a whistleblower's claims that senior Trump administration officials granted national security badges to at least 25 people that government reviewers had rejected for an array of concerns.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved the subpoena to Carl Kline on a party-line 22-15 vote after the panel's top Republican, Congressman Jim Jordan, protested, calling the investigation a "partisan attack" and an "excuse to go fishing" through personnel files of White House officials.
But Democrats, led by the panel's chairman, Congressman Elijah Cummings, moved ahead with the investigation based on claims made by Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government security clearance official under both Republican and Democratic presidents. Kline was her boss at the White House before taking a position at the Defense Department.
Newbold told investigators for the congressional panel last month that senior Trump administration officials often overruled concerns by career employee clearance reviewers that prospective White House 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."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that in pursuing the investigation Democrats were "playing a very dangerous and a shameful game, frankly. They're asking for personal, private and confidential information from individuals that they know they have no right to see."
But another top House Democrat, Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told VOA the career employees' security clearance reviews are "not something to be willy-nilly overturned by the president because he wants to give a family member clearance."
One focus of the Cummings panel is the security clearance given last year to President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a White House adviser, over the protests of then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Kushner has denied anything unusual about his clearance, telling Fox News late Monday, "I disclosed all of my holdings to the Office of Government Ethics, and what I did with them is they told me what to divest, what to keep, what rules to follow. We followed all that."
Newbold told investigators that while Trump as president had the right to overrule career employees' denials of the security badges, the officials' clearances "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security."
She 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, Kushner, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.