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National Security

'Whistleblower' seeks protection after sounding alarm over White House security clearances

Tricia Newbold says her supervisor "repeatedly mishandled security files and has approved unwarranted security clearances."
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A White House security specialist is seeking official whistleblower protection from the federal government after raising concerns about “unwarranted security clearances" for administration officials, including Jared Kushner, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The specialist, Tricia Newbold, filed the whistleblower complaint less than two weeks after she was suspended without pay for defying her supervisor, Carl Kline.

The complaint, which was obtained by NBC News, alleges Newbold raised concerns with Kline about a security clearance for an individual as early as July 2017. The complaint does not identify the person, but sources familiar with the situation told NBC News that it was Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser.

In the complaint, Newbold says Kline "repeatedly mishandled security files and has approved unwarranted security clearances."

The complaint says that on July 18, 2017, Newbold emailed Kline about “potential derogatory information” related to the individual that could impact his security clearance. At the time, Kushner had interim security clearance and his FBI investigation was ongoing, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Image: Tricia Newbold
Tricia Newbold has filed an EEOC complaint against Carl Kline, alleging he discriminated against her because of her height.

Newbold’s complaint explains that standard procedure would be to call in the employee and discuss the negative information, which in this case had already been deemed to be “credible." Newbold’s complaint alleges that Kline refused to do so and instead suggested he “was going to wait until the [FBI] investigation was completed.”

Newbold says in the complaint that she “questioned why we were treating this individual any differently than we would any other individual.” The complaint claims Kline then shut down the discussion saying, “he would not address this matter further.”

Newbold’s complaint says she raised concerns with Kline again on the same individual, identified by sources as Kushner, on Aug. 21, 2017. The complaint states that Kline “advised I should ‘watch myself.’"

Months later, Kline approved top-secret clearance for Kushner, overruling the determination by Newbold and one other career White House security specialist, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

The career staffers rejected Kushner’s top-secret application because of concerns about his foreign contacts that were detailed in his FBI background investigation, according to the two sources.

Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top-secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, according to the two sources.

Such cases are typically rare, the sources said. A decision to overrule the recommendations of career experts was made only once in the last three years before Kline was hired, according to the sources.

The complaint — filed with the federal government’s official whistleblower office, which is called the U.S. Office of Special Counsel — is not connected to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign. The OSC, as it is commonly known, is a permanent independent entity that investigates retaliation against federal whistleblowers.

Newbold is claiming that she has been retaliated against for raising concerns about her supervisor’s “reckless security judgments." In April 2018, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint alleging that he discriminated against her because of her height. Newbold has a rare form of dwarfism.

In her equal opportunity complaint, Newbold indicated that Kline had moved files out of her reach telling her that she could ask her staff to get files for her if she needed them. Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed the files were moved out of Newbold’s reach.

Kline did not respond to phone calls and texts requesting comment except for one text after NBC News reported that he was the subject of an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. "I don't care," read the message.

After raising the discrimination concerns, Newbold was suspended from her job for two weeks without pay. That suspension will end on Thursday. The chief security officer for the Executive Office of the President, Crede Bailey, denied that the suspension had anything to do with the discrimination complaint and instead said it was based on a failure to supervise, failure to follow instructions and defiance of authority, according to the suspension decision notice reviewed by NBC News.

The suspension document also notes that Newbold has not faced any “prior formal disciplinary action” in her 18-year career with the federal government.

Asked about Newbold's suspension, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders previously told NBC News, “We don’t comment on personnel issues."

The whistleblower complaint indicates Newbold reported her concerns to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in early December. Investigators on the committee are actively investigating how Kushner received his top-secret clearance.