Did the White House force through unqualified security clearances?

Another weird “whistleblower” story coming out of the Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee, and this time we’re at least not dealing with anonymous sources. Chairman Elijah Cummings and the rest of the members questioned Tricia Newbold of the Personnel Security Office and learned that the White House overruled denials of security clearances for more than two dozen people, allegedly including both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The list of “concerns” over all of these people are not yet being matched up to individual names, but they certainly make it sound damning. (CNN)

A White House staff member has told House investigators that senior officials have overruled concerns raised about 25 individuals whose security clearances were initially denied over a range of disqualifying issues — such as fears about foreign influence and potential conflicts-of-interests — warning of the grave implications to national security, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker.

Now House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings plans to issue a subpoena this week demanding an interview with Carl Kline, who served as the personnel security director at the White House during President Donald Trump’s first two years in office — as part of the Democrats’ investigation into the handling of the security clearance process, including for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who are both also White House advisers.

So what sort of concerns are we talking about here? There’s drug use, being under the influence of foreign governments, bad credit ratings, conflicts of interest and criminal conduct. In each case, this led the Personnel Security Office to withhold approval of security clearances, but the White House overruled them.

Just to cut to the chase up front, even the experienced sources quoted in this report all agree that the President has the final say in who does or doesn’t receive a clearance if he chooses to intervene. In that sense, nobody is talking about any laws being broken, but rather questioning the judgment used in the approval process. And as long as all of the background information on these individuals can be verified (not that we’re likely to see the details) then it’s a fair enough question to raise.

Having been through the security clearance process myself – at a much, much lower level – and having been contacted by the government to answer questions about others seeking clearances, I can tell you that they tend to err on the side of caution. Sometimes overly so in my experience. One coworker of mine from back in the nineties was turned down on the basis of nothing more than having been late on his rent and his utility bills a few times when he was unemployed. (Or so he claimed they said, anyway.)

Most of the accusations listed from this whistleblower sound like they rise to higher levels than that, however. But the question the committee needs to answer now is, what do you plan to do about it? There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for you ro remove the security clearance from anyone on the White House staff once it’s been approved, assuming no breach of security or criminal action has taken place. Do they plan to simply air the dirty laundry of all 25 individuals on the list, even if the concerns don’t rise to the level of criminal activity? That seems like a dangerous precedent to set going forward because the Democrats won’t be in the majority forever.

If nothing else, the press has landed themselves another scandal to talk about now that the Mueller investigation is over. If it turns out that any individuals with these clearances went on to break the law and/or mishandle classified information, we definitely need to learn about it. If this was just a series of judgment calls made by the White House to no later deleterious effect, I’m not seeing much of a story here.