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EXCLUSIVE: Kushner not focus of White House whistleblower's security-clearance complaint

Tricia Newbold told MEE earlier this year that Trump's son-in-law was not among officials in her complaint
Jared Kushner has been criticised for his unorthodox diplomacy and close ties to the Saudi crown prince (AFP/File photo)

A White House whistleblower at the centre of a furore over security clearances granted to Trump administration aides has dismissed claims that Jared Kushner is one of the individuals at the centre of her complaint.

"Everyone assumes [my complaint] is about [Kushner], but that's not the case," the whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, told MEE in a brief telephone interview earlier this year.

US media outlets have widely speculated that President Donald Trump's son-in-law had initially been refused security clearance because of his close friendship with Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Last month, Newbold told Democratic members of the US House Oversight and Reform Committee that senior White House officials had over-ruled security staff to give clearance to 25 individuals whose overseas links, conduct or past drug use had raised cause for concern.

But Newbold, who works in the Personnel Security Office and handles security clearance determinations for senior White House officials, told MEE that Kushner was not part of her complaint.

Even if Kushner were involved, she said she would not get into specifics because she respected an individual's right to privacy.

Newbold referred MEE to her Washington, DC-based lawyer Ed Passman. On Monday, when MEE sought confirmation that Kushner was not one of the individuals subject to her complaint, Passman said by email only that he could not speak about the security clearance process at the White House.

'Everyone assumes [my complaint] is about [Kushner], but that's not the case'

- Tricia Newbold, White House whistleblower

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the chairman of the committee, said in a letter sent to White House Council Pat Cipollone that Newbold had detailed "grave breaches of national security at the highest levels of the Trump administration".

According to the letter, Newbold told the committee: "I would not be doing a service to myself, my country, or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security."

None of the 25 individuals are named in the letter or in a detailed memo released by the committee.

But Cummings has requested information relating to former and current White House officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner.

On Monday, a number of media outlets immediately pointed to previous reports that Kushner had been granted security clearance on the instructions of Trump, something that the president has denied.

The Oversight Committee now plans to authorise subpoenas in order to discover more about the way in which a number of security clearances were issued to a number of individuals, including Kushner.

MEE asked Cummings' office on Monday whether Newbold was specifically asked about Kushner during the 23 March interview and how she responded, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

The letter triggered an angry reaction from ranking committee member Jim Jordan (R-OH) who said in a statement that Cummings had "cherry-picked" excerpts from Newbold's testimony and was using her comments as a "pretense for a partisan attack on the White House".

"Chairman Cummings has departed from longstanding bipartisan oversight of the security clearance process to advance his partisan efforts to attack the president," Jordan said.

Unorthodox diplomacy

In addition to questions over his business ties overseas, Kushner, a senior White House adviser who has been working on Middle East policy, has come under fire for his unorthodox diplomacy with world leaders, particularly with the Saudi crown prince.

The two are reportedly on a first name basis, sharing texts and phone calls, and are said to have stayed up until nearly 4am to speak during a personal visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

The Intercept previously reported that bin Salman even boasted that he had Kushner "in his pocket".

According to the New York Times, the relationship has been a cause for concern for senior American officials, particularly following the 2 October killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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The CIA has concluded that the crown prince likely ordered Khashoggi's killing, a claim Saudi officials have denied.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has largely stood by the young crown prince, even as US lawmakers have pushed for the White House to investigate the murder and have renewed calls for the US to end arms deals with the kingdom.

Kushner has reportedly carried on chatting with the crown prince informally, offering advice on how to deal with the uproar, the New York Times has reported.

Kushner's links to Qatar have also raised questions after a property investor in which the Qatari government is invested bailed out owners of a heavily indebted skyscraper in New York City. The owners happen to be his family's Kushner Companies.

However, sources told Reuters in February that Doha first learned about the bailout in the media and has since decided that its Qatar Investment Authority will put funds only in investments in which it has full control.

Last month, the House Oversight committee criticised Kushner's use of the online messaging service WhatApp for official business when communicating with foreign contacts.