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Lawyer For Government Whistleblower On The Decision To Elevate Clearance Concerns


The White House official who supervised whistleblower Tricia Newbold in the Personnel Security Office will be answering questions from Congress. The House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena Carl Kline today. Newbold told the committee last week that dozens of times, her recommendation that security clearances be denied were overruled. She says that could have jeopardized national security. Newbold is 39. She's been a civil servant for 18 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations. And earlier I spoke with her lawyer, Ed Passman. I asked him to lay out Newbold's accusations against her office and Carl Kline, her former boss.

ED PASSMAN: When she decided it was not in the national interest to grant security clearances for these 25 individuals, her supervisor overruled her and never provided any rationale for his decisions. In the past, when she was overruled on rare occasion, they would - supervisor would point out the mitigating circumstances and would work with her to assess the risk. Her former supervisor Carl Kline wouldn't speak to her, in fact would direct her not to get involved in these disputed security adjudications.

SHAPIRO: There has been reporting that President Trump got personally involved in order to grant security clearances for his son-in-law and others. Do you have any awareness of that?

PASSMAN: My client would have no direct awareness of that. It was at a much higher level than she was operating at.

SHAPIRO: What led your client Tricia Newbold to conclude that the problems she was seeing in her office could not be addressed within the executive branch that she works for but instead needed to be addressed by Congress?

PASSMAN: Well, first she tried very hard to get the problems addressed within her office. She went to her first- and second-level supervisors. They wouldn't do anything. Then she went outside of her office. She even contacted a White House counsel and, at the time, an assistant to the president. And no one did anything to alleviate her situation.

SHAPIRO: She argues that some of these decisions to grant national security clearances may jeopardize U.S. national security. Explain why that is.

PASSMAN: Well, because there are a number of reasons that a security clearance can be denied. Among them would be foreign contacts, foreign business interests, criminal activity, financial instability, drug and alcohol use. And some of these are very serious. If employees who had the history of these issues - and they weren't properly mitigated, they could be a risk to national security if they received security clearances.

SHAPIRO: You're saying hypothetically those could be reasons security clearances would be denied. Were they in these cases reasons that they were denied?

PASSMAN: Some of them were applicable in different cases, yes.

SHAPIRO: Is overriding 25 security clearance denials a large number? I have no idea what's normal in this situation.

PASSMAN: It's a very large number. According to my client, it's only happened on one or two occasions, and she recalls one fairly recently in the last administration where a decision was overridden, but the supervisor explained the rationale and how the security concerns were mitigated. And she was willing to go along with his decision because it made sense.

SHAPIRO: In your client's complaint, the 25 people who were given security clearances are not named, but there has been reporting that President Trump overrode the decision of career officials to grant his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a clearance. Can you tell us whether he's one of the people involved here?

PASSMAN: I can't comment on that. My client is not willing to discuss individual security determinations. She thinks it would be improper.

SHAPIRO: Now that these accusations are in the hands of Congress and in the public eye, where does it go from here?

PASSMAN: My client has these two pending cases, one before the Office of Special Counsel, which is being investigated, where she's alleged reprisal for whistleblowing based on her suspension and removal from her supervisory position. She also has a pending case at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she's requested a hearing and is waiting for assignment of an administrative judge.

SHAPIRO: Ed Passman, thanks very much for talking with us today.

PASSMAN: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: That's attorney Ed Passman, who represents whistleblower Tricia Newbold. She works in the Personnel Security Office of the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.