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Trump's inner circle is getting unusual access to secret information, and former White House officials are concerned

John Haltiwanger , Business Insider US
 Apr 03, 2019, 08:36 AM
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21 : Sen. Chuck Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, watches as Senior advisor Jared Kushner speaks with President Donald J. Trump during a signing ceremony. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Trump administration could be threatening national security, given how it handles security clearances, according to former White House and intelligence officials.
  • The White House granted security clearances to at least 25 people who were previously denied them, according to a new reoprt.
  • Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, referred to the report as "quite amazing" in an email to INSIDER.
  • "I am unaware of President Obama ever intervening in an issue relating to the granting of a security clearance," Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of staff under former President Barack Obama, told INSIDER.

The Trump administration has reportedly been doling out security clearances in a way that could pose a risk to national security, according to former White House and intelligence officials.

At least 25 people in the Trump administration were granted security clearances after previously being denied them, according to the testimony of a White House whistleblower to the House Oversight Committee.

The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, said the clearances were forced through without proper adherence to procedures, despite the fact the people in question had "a wide range of serious disqualifying issues", according to a congressional memo made public on Monday. Newbold was described as an "18-year, non-partisan career employee" who worked in the White House's Personnel Security Office.

Former senior-level officials expressed concern over the memo.

"I am unaware of President Obama ever intervening in an issue relating to the granting of a security clearance," Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of staff under former President Barack Obama, told INSIDER. "I would be surprised if he had ever done so."

When asked whether these allegations constituted a possible threat to national security, McKeon said the following: "My reaction to this report, without knowing all the facts, is that, if true, is that it is an unusually high number of people in that status, so it suggests a pattern of someone in a senior White House position not taking the clearance process and standards seriously. That is a matter of significant concern."

Similarly, Ned Price, a former National Security Council official during the Obama administration, told INSIDER that when he worked in the White House "the process was sacrosanct in the sense that career officials had the final say" on security clearances.

"There was a recognition that even the appearance of political pressure could raise concerns," Price said of the security-clearance process under Obama.

"But here's the other difference: senior White House officials in the Obama era tended to be individuals who had served at high levels of career service or who had previously served in senior appointed positions," Price added. "This administration is rather unique in the number of officials who have never held positions of public trust - or who haven't done so in many years."

In a tweet on Monday, Price also said, "Overturning a clearance denial for one person should be considered a scandal and, more importantly, a national security threat. What is it called when that happens 25 times under Trump? Monday."

Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, who's been an unabashed critic of President Donald Trump, referred to the memo as "quite amazing" in an email to INSIDER.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.

This all comes as the Trump administration faces ongoing criticism over his son-in-law Jared Kushner's senior position in the White House and allegations he was given top-secret security clearance under the president's direct orders despite concerns from other officials.

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