WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former head of the White House office for security clearances told U.S. congressional investigators that he loosened clearance procedures for new hires over the objections of career officials, a congressional aide said on Thursday.
In a closed-door interview on Wednesday with the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Carl Kline said he changed security clearance practices in ways that Democratic investigators said weakened national security, according to the aide.
The aide said that Kline confirmed he stopped the White House from ordering credit checks of new hires. He also ended a White House policy of re-vetting some parts of the backgrounds of new hires who had already been cleared by other agencies in the preceding six years, the aide said.
The aide said that Kline “confirmed that he overrode the decisions of experienced career officials beneath him and granted security clearances for a number of individuals - including when the concern at question was foreign influence.”
Kline’s appearance before House Oversight investigators came as they looked into the issuance of high-level security clearances to some Trump White House staffers, despite recommendations from career officials to the contrary.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were among the two dozen staffers who got clearances in this way, said the aide and another congressional source.
Kline managed White House clearances at the time; he has since left the White House and works at the Defense Department.
The security clearances probe is one of several being pursued by House committees under control of Democrats into Trump, his administration, his family and his businesses.
Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings told Reuters that the White House has provided no documentation regarding clearance policies to the committee and has blocked witnesses from discussing individual clearance decisions.
“We still have no idea why the president’s daughter and son-in-law were given clearances,” Cummings said.
A White House official, who also asked not to be named, disputed the aide’s account of Kline’s interview.
The White House official said that Kline had “informed the Oversight Committee that nobody in the White House, including senior officials, pressured or influenced his security clearance determinations in any way.”
The official added: “Career officials who worked under Kline provided recommendations, and Kline, as the chief of personnel security, made final decisions. Contrary to the committee’s assertions, the White House provided the committee with 500 pages of documents for review, and the White House has voluntarily provided multiple briefings to the committee regarding the security clearance process.”
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis