Clarity About Clearances Revisited (Updated)

The scandal du jour is a claim by a “White House whistleblower” that the Trump Administration overruled the recommendations of various agencies and granted top-secret access to two-dozen or so staffers who had been denied security clearances.

As Politico reported on Monday:

A White House Personnel Security Office employee is alleging that senior Trump administration officials often rebuffed national security concerns to grant high-level security clearances to people who initially were denied access to top-secret information, a pattern she described as troubling and one she said continued for months.

That employee, Tricia Newbold, laid out a series of explosive allegations, often implicating Carl Kline, the former White House personnel security chief. She kept a list of White House officials whose clearance applications initially were denied but eventually overruled, and said the list includes as many as 25 people, some of whom had daily access to the president.

Newbold alleges some of those people “had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.” Naturally, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday voted to issue subpoenas to get to the bottom of it all.

I asked Angelo Codevilla for his insight on the subject. He replied with his typical candor: “I have said it so many times, it is so obvious. Read the Constitution, anybody. All the president [or] his chief of staff has to do is say so and the [critics] will slink away.”

But in case that short answer doesn’t satisfy you, I’d encourage you to re-read Codevilla’s article from August, “Clarity About Clearances.” The upshot:

[W]hile reasonable people may disagree about the basis on which security clearances should be granted or removed, it is wholly distinct from the question of who has the authority to do so. About that, no disagreement is possible. The president of the United States has the sole, unquestionable, unrestricted authority to grant and withhold security clearances.

Furthermore, while the FBI, CIA, and others in the Intelligence Community are free to make recommendations, those agencies do not have the last word. Codevilla again:

[D]ozens if not hundreds of persons whom President Trump had chosen to fill his administration have been unable to take up their intended posts because the agencies have arrogated to themselves the power to withhold clearances. This is literally a revolutionary act on their part. By claiming the authority to grant and withhold clearances, the agencies have presumed to decide with whom the president may or may not take counsel.

In fact, their authority with regard to clearances is strictly advisory. They may—and should—present to the president whatever facts and conclusions they might have concerning anyone. But he, not they, have the sole right to decide. For good or ill, President Obama cleared any number of aides against whom the FBI recommended. But while President Trump complains about the agencies, he has deferred to them entirely. He should be faulted for this on constitutional as well as on prudential grounds.

Bottom line: This is a straightforward separation-of-powers question. The president has the final say. Everything else is noise.

Update: Via Debra Heine at PJ Media, “Jim Jordan Blasts Oversight Dems for ‘Reckless Decisions’ Regarding Security Clearance Whistleblower”:

Rep Jim Jordan on Tuesday (R-Ohio) blasted the House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrat majority’s handling of the explosive testimony of a 39-year-old White House Personnel Security Office employee. The whistleblower, 39-year-old Tricia Newbold, is accusing the Trump White House of grossly mismanaging security clearances. . . .

. . . [Jordan], the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, on Monday accused Cummings of releasing “cherry-picked” information and claimed that Newbold’s list of 25 “high-level security clearances”  includes “non-political officials such as a GSA custodian.”

“It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that Chairman Cummings is now using this sensitive topic as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House,” Jordan said.

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About Ben Boychuk

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He is a former weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media, and a veteran of several publications, including City Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and the Claremont Review of Books. He lives in California. Subscribe to his Substack newsletter, “Nice Things and Why You Can’t Have Them.”

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