Robert Driscoll, an attorney former White House personnel security director Carl Kline, sat down for a wide-ranging interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast. A transcript of Driscoll’s interview as it appears in this episode of the podcast follows here:
ROBERT DRISCOLL: Thanks for having me.
ABC NEWS’ KYRA PHILLIPS: All right. Carl Kline. Who is he? Why are you representing him? Describe him to us.
DRISCOLL: Carl Kline is, or was, the top security officer at the White House, was in charge of clearances. He's a career, for lack of a better term, clearance guy. He's got 45 years of experience. 25 in the Air Force, 18 doing civilian clearance work. And he's a career guy who was asked to take this job during the Trump administration, took it, and is now kind of caught betwixt and between a constitutional struggle between the executive and legislative branches.
PHILLIPS: So, Tricia Newbold who worked under underneath Carl. She's the whistleblower that has been making all the news, she worked in the White House Personnel Security Office under Carl she had been there for 18 years.
PHILLIPS: And she tells Congress that at least 25 people whose applications were denied were overruled and she has warned that the situation is quote a national security issue. It could impact national security. That's the exact quote. And she's basically saying, you know, Carl is the one that that basically said nope, sorry, don't agree with you. These guys are going to get clearance.
DRISCOLL: Right. And not to bore you to death, but It's important to talk a little bit of process in this – so, the way the process works in the security office of the White House is when you join the White House you fill out an SF86 form. It's got all your background data, it gets shipped out to the FBI, and you start working with your interim clearance. And then when the FBI report is complete, it goes back to the security office, and then a line reviewer at the security office reviews it. It goes to a supervisor in the security office. And then, when Carl was there, or whoever the head is, if either the line person or the supervisor raises an issue it goes to Carl’s desk. So, it's incorrect to say that anyone has a security clearance overruled or reversed or anything else because it's not denied. And Carl is the only one that could have denied it. Some of his subordinates can recommend denial to him, in which case that act puts it on his desk. But if his subordinates don't recommend denial, it goes out the door without him ever seeing it. So, if something came through clean with no issues and no one raised any issues someone like Carl, in Carl’s position, would never see it. If someone does raise an issue, it ended up on his on his desk. So, essentially it's denied by him. And it's, I think, a little bit misleading to suggest that somehow the clearance was denied and he reversed it because that's just a subordinate – in the general way of workflow, works in that office.
ABC NEWS’ KATHERINE FAULDERS: Newbold testified that senior White House official number one, you know, had these disqualifying concerns and that they were overwritten by your client would you take issue with that characterization in any way?
DRISCOLL: I mean, A, I wouldn't confirm who senior official one is, but I think I would - I mean I think - the bottom line is all that someone in Newbold’s position can do is raise issues to be reviewed by her supervisor. And the way I would say it is it's like a newspaper or someplace else or even ABC News. You know, there's a workflow. There are editors, there are line people. Every time an editor does their job you don't say I've been overruled, I've been reversed. It's I’ve passed up the line and sometimes they make decisions that are different than you. Sometimes they agree. And also I think it's important to realize the bureaucratic incentives here. If you're a supervisor in the office, if you approve an application, you own it because no one else sees it. If you approve it, you're the last word. If you don't approve it, someone else is going to own it. And so, if there's someone high profile or someone controversial, I would suggest that, in classic government bureaucratic fashion, the instinct is going to be put on your boss's desk - which is appropriate because the bosses, you know, they say get paid the big money they make the decisions in situations like that.
ABC NEWS’ SHANNON CRAWFORD: Right, but Newbold’s not saying hey I kicked it up. It's your deal now she's saying, I came to you multiple times. I had serious concerns in some cases and she's feeling that perhaps he just rubber stamp them approved instead of taking her considerations.
DRISCOLL: Right. And I read, kind of the summary of her testimony before the House or the interview I guess was the testimony before the house. I mean it to me, you know, not to minimize it, but it sounds like it's a subordinate employee who disagreed with some of the decisions of her boss and didn't feel that they were adequately explained to her, which isn't necessarily a boss's obligation to do, you know, and didn't seem to have a lot of knowledge about what went on or didn't go on above the chain from her.
PHILLIPS: Well, the reason why obviously this is making a lot of news is cause we're talking about Jared Kushner. I mean it's out there that a White House official number one was Jared Kushner sources are --
CRAWFORD: Widely, speculated yeah.
PHILLIPS: Sources telling me it's Jared.
FAULDERS: Yep, I’ve heard yeah.
PHILLIPS: Yep, Katherine. Sources telling you as well. And Newbold reportedly described Kushner as having too many quote significant disqualifying factors to have received clearance including quote outside business interests and quote foreign influence. So despite the denied security clearance, Newbold says her superior your client, Carl Kline, overruled and approved Kushner's clearance. Despite those flags that she raised.
DRISCOLL: There's been kind of opposition research that people have tried to convert into government investigations. There's a government investigation designed to get OPPO-research. I mean, let's all be real in this room. This is about getting Jared’s FS86 right? Or getting Ivanka’s FS86 or getting somebody’s FS86. That's why the Democrats want it. There's no legitimate legislative interest in any of this. This is exactly so that they can rummage through the files and leak it to the press. You have, part of me like in the way you watch football, you kind of appreciate the well-executed plan. You know, the unfortunate part for me is that my guys got nothing to do with this, he's just doing his job. And you know this is, Congress wants to dig through, you know, confidential personnel files and the White House has an interest. Well, they can resolve that through the courts or otherwise, but there's no reason my guy should be hiring a lawyer and getting dragged before this committee
FAULDERS: But to play devil's advocate for a second though. It’s - she testified before the committee, Republicans and Democrats, Democrats did reveal first in their letter. But should we take her testimony seriously? She was working in the office under your client. I mean, shouldn't we give some credence as to what she's saying before the committee?
DRISCOLL: Well I mean, I guess there's always a balance between what people think is newsworthy or interesting and what the institutional interests are. I mean I think people ought to consider if they want to live in a world where the opposition party and Congress can say to the party that has the presidency, you know, we're really concerned about national security in the clearance process. If you wouldn’t mind sending over the FS 86 for all your senior people we want to see if there's any problems your security process may have missed.
PHILLIPS: So, did Carl Kline and Tricia Newbold respect each other when they were dealing with security clearances and these approvals and these applications? Because she said he discriminated against her because she's a little person and she felt that it was a bit of a hostile work environment.
DRISCOLL: I find that, my personally, to be an unusual allegations, just having met Carl. I'll leave it at that. And I'm confident that he'll prevail. Legally.
FAULDERS: Why did he ultimately leave the office, the personnel security office?
DRISCOLL: Got a better gig back at DOD. And what’s funny, this is again talk about the media filling in gaps and speculation. When I first went, one of the first things you do when you get a client is you Google them and you look at the stuff and I saw all the speculation that he left the White House in the wake of, you know, these things, the kind of the weasel words.
PHILLIPS: Well, because Newbold accuses him of reckless practices, which had national security implications.
DRISCOLL: And he did not leave in the wake of any of this. He was contacted about this job last August. He got his tentative offer last December and he got his formal, final offer on January 5th or 6th. So this stuff, his departure was long in the works and predated all this. And it is not a reaction to it.
FAULDERS: You mentioned, you mentioned earlier that your client is not a political guy, in any way. Did he, to your knowledge ever receive any direct orders from this president or through an intermediary to overturn any of these clearances?
DRISCOLL: I don't believe so. When you’re working in the White House and your clearance is being worked on by the FBI and eventually back to security office, you have an interim clearance. So, you're not getting excluded from any meetings. Your life isn't adversely affected. So, I don't think this office is going to be necessarily subject to that much, you know, I think that Carl’s would just do his job. They have standards, they apply. Yeah like anything else, they have written standards of what you analyze, what you look at. And - but at the end of the day it's all a risk assessment that you do anyway. And it's the type of risk assessment he's been doing on behalf of the military for decades and he's still doing now for our military.
ABC NEWS’ PETE MADDEN: Would denying the security clearance for an important Trump administration official such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner have put your client at odds with the president?
DRISCOLL: I have no idea. I mean, I wouldn't suspect so because again the president would have plenary authority anyway. And so, it's one of those things where the results can be in the end what the president wanted to be and you're doing - from a constitutional perspective, the entire office exists kind of and processes were written broadly speaking at the direction of the president. And so you’re going through process the president asked you to do, applying the judgement the president asked you to apply and if the end of the day the president wants to ignore that and grant a clearance. The president is entitled to do it. I'm not sure that would or wouldn't make the president upset.
CRAWFORD: There's been a lot of reporting about Jared and Ivanka, perhaps an impropriety with their security clearances. You bring up interim security clearances. There have been complaints that there's been too many of those doled out. Where there's smoke is there fire?
DRISCOLL: I can't even confirm what you know these things are about and the individuals involved, but I think that clearly the names you mentioned are the ones the Democrats are interested in. And you know, I think that you've got a difficult problem and that you've got an office. The whole idea when you work for the government is you give some pretty intimate details of your life into the FBI and have them reviewed. And I don't blame the media for kind of trying to do its job. But you know what do you do when someone who's in an office that's bound by confidentiality because they have such sensitive information of personal - when someone from that office leaks to the media? You're kind of in a bind right? Because you can either fight fire with fire and say here's the truth, but then you're equally leaking confidential information that shouldn't be out there. And so, in some ways, one of the many reasons I feel some sympathy for Carl in this situation, is in a lot of ways you just have to sit there and take it because he's not gonna - he's been doing this for a long time. It's his career and he's not going to, you know, throw out stuff just to defend himself if it's confidential. So, you know, there's a process. It’s there and I think people I think through the consequences. I mean, there's no problem with the media doing what they can dig up. I think whether this issue existed or not I think the media would dig up things about you know the first family because it's, it's interesting.
MADDEN: But aren't we kind of glossing over the underlying concern here which is that Trump or administration officials may have improperly given members of the Trump family who weren't qualified to have top secret clearances access to very sensitive information?
DRISCOLL: I mean I'm not sure that's been - I mean you can speculate that's the case. But I guess the quibble I'd have with A, you're dealing with a plenary presidential authority, so not qualified I'm not sure is a word that makes sense.
MADDEN: You've suggested that the purpose of this investigation is in effect opposition research, you know, democrats would dispute that and say that this is a matter of who we give access to our sensitive secrets to.
DRISCOLL: Right, but the question is why would you investigate that and what would you do about it at the end of the investigation? I mean if you're a Democrat? That, that's what - that's to me the litmus test of know article one power, there's legislative oversight.
FAULDERS: But there is reporting. We talk about the speculation, but there is reporting in The New York Times, I believe, that the former chief of staff John Kelly and the former White House counsel Don McGahn put in writing and memos
FAULDERS: That they were concerned about Jared's security clearance.
FAULDERS: I mean those are Republicans inside the White House do we have some obligation though to look into that? Is that not important?
DRISCOLL: There’s no problem with anyone in this room looking into it. You know ABC News does what it does. That's fine. The question is, you know, there are some things you can access and some things you can't. That's just the - that's the dispute. I mean, it's an interesting legal question, but it's, that's the issue. Just to be clear the White House would allow my client to testify and we informed Chairman Cummings of this - about any of the process issues. They want to talk about changes in process he made when he took over the office. The problem is going to come if someone says we want to talk about this specific decision or this specific file. That I think, is my understanding as to where the conflict is between the executive and legislative branch.
FAULDERS: And the Democrats have sent you that list the specific list, the specific list they want you to talk about right?
DRISCOLL: They made, I forget if it’s to me or you know the White House counsel. But I've seen in the exchange of letters what they want to talk about.
CRAWFORD: You bring up the subpoena, your clients willing to testify. You say you know, you'll do the thing.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think they subpoenaed you anyway? Or subpoenaed your client I should say anyway?
DRISCOLL: I think they just didn't think it through. To me it would be cleaner from a legal perspective and obviously easier and generate less legal fees for innocent people is they could have the same fight over a document. I mean let's just have it. Withdrawn the subpoena against my client, subpoena the FS86, whatever it is they're interested in and have the fight and have my guy go home. And when they're done with the fight and the court works it out or they work it out - my guy will come and testify under whatever parameters get worked out. But it's kind of silly to have a career person sit there and dig through this because now I have to defend him and my interest isn’t the White House, my interest isn’t Congress, my interest is him.
PHILLIPS: Bob, thanks so much for being with us.
DRISCOLL: Thanks for having me.
CRAWFORD: One more question: you're not going to confirm who White House persons one, two, or three are for us are you?
DRISCOLL: I am not.
CRAWFORD: Well, it was worth a try.
PHILLIPS: That’s it for us today. Thank you for joining us. Please be sure to hit subscribe and leave us a rating. We’re back to our regular schedule—new episodes dropping every Tuesday. Thanks to our producers: Treavor Hastings and Shannon Crawford. We’ll see you back here next week, for another episode of the Investigation.