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Rep. Jamie Raskin Discusses Allegations Of Denied Security Clearances Being Overturned

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A whistleblower has told Congress that at least 25 people were granted security clearances by the Trump administration after career employees recommended denying those clearances. Those 25 include two current senior White House officials. The whistleblower's name is Tricia Newbold. She's an 18-year career employee who currently works at the Personnel Security Office. That's the office that recommends for or against granting security clearances to members of the administration. She gave these details in private testimony to the House Oversight Committee last month.

Joining me now is a member of that committee, Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland. Welcome.

JAMIE RASKIN: I'm delighted to be with you.

CHANG: So Tricia Newbold flags three particular instances involving senior White House officials who are kept anonymous. Can you tell us a little more about these officials who were initially denied security clearances but those decisions were overruled?

RASKIN: Yes. In all three cases, she raised both significant, substantive problems with granting these people a security clearance relating to things like foreign influence, business conflicts of interest, personal conduct and so on. And then she raised very serious problems about what the process was. In fact, it sounded like she was trying to explain to her supervisor how the process worked. He could indeed overrule her, but he needed to write out an explanation of why and explain why the specific concerns that she raised were addressed by other factual evidence that he had available to him. Apparently none of that ever happened. And that's obviously a very dangerous breach in the protocol.

CHANG: This whistleblower, Tricia Newbold - she spoke of at least 25 instances where the Personnel Security Office was overruled by more senior members of the administration. Is 25 a lot? Do you know?

RASKIN: Well, it seems like it's a lot historically. That's one of the things we wanted to determine.

CHANG: It seems more frequent than the usual...

RASKIN: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Administration.

RASKIN: It is certainly not unprecedented. I think we've heard of a few other cases. But the idea that dozens of people would be getting a security clearance after the normal staff review says they should be denied seems extraordinary to us. This is the first time we have such explicit allegations of a systemic problem in the office relating to the granting of security clearances.

CHANG: When it comes to these 25 instances, I mean, that does sound like a lot. You say it seems extraordinary. But Republicans point out that several of those 25 are nonpolitical employees, including a janitor.

RASKIN: Well, that doesn't give me much comfort. At whatever level of government, we don't want people in who may be compromised by virtue of either past activity or ongoing activity.

CHANG: Do you know if any of the 25 include Jared Kushner or Ivana Trump, the president's son-in-law and daughter?

RASKIN: No, we do not know that.

CHANG: Are you confident about Tricia Newbold's credibility?

RASKIN: You know, what we have to go on is the fact that she's got an unblemished record of service in that office. She's served Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, all of these prior administrations. There's been no problem before. If it all turns out not to be true, then we can all go and celebrate. But unfortunately there are reasons to believe what she's saying is accurate. And look; the White House can clear it all up simply by delivering all of the documents we're asking for and making the interviews available instead of stonewalling the committee.

CHANG: About those documents, now, House Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio specifically is accusing the chairman of the committee, Elijah Cummings, of finding, quote, "an excuse to go fishing" through the personnel files of people perhaps including Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump. What's your response to Congressman Jordan?

RASKIN: That is obviously not the reason for this investigation. The reason for this investigation is that there are apparently dozens of denials of security clearances that were overruled by the White House. We want to know what the context was for these denials. We want to know what the reasons were. And we want to know whether American national security has been compromised by what sounds like, at best, slipshod practices.

CHANG: Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland is a member of the House Oversight Committee. Thank you very much for joining us today.

RASKIN: I'm delighted to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.