Tricia Newbold, who worked in the White House Security Office for 18 years, was suspended less than a week after NBC News reported on Newbold’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against her boss, Carl Kline.
The initial article, which was published on Jan. 24, focused on Kline and reports that he granted Jared Kushner top-secret level clearance despite protests from other White House security specialists. Newbold’s EEOC complaint was mentioned in the article in order to provide context regarding Kline’s history as a supervisor. According to NBC, the October 2018 complaint alleged that Kline discriminated against Newbold, who has a form of dwarfism, on the basis of her height. On Jan. 30, Newbold was notified that she would be suspended for 14 days without pay.
Newbold’s attorney wrote in a statement that the suspension “is an additional indication the current administration is adamant about punishing brave civil servants who come forward to report gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, and violations of laws, rules and regulations.”
The timing of Newbold’s suspension certainly suggests that she is being retaliated against for her whistleblowing. Indeed, whistleblowers with spotless work reputations, as Newbold appears to have, often face suspension or have their security clearances revoked as punishment for speaking out. The suspension notice even stated that in her 18-year career, Newbold had not faced any “prior formal disciplinary action.”
Although Newbold’s suspension was first proposed on Dec. 3, 2018, her case only gained public attention upon the NBC report’s publication. While it is unclear whether Newbold communicated directly with NBC before the first article was published, these events highlight the central role journalists can play in protecting whistleblowers. In Working with Whistleblowers: A Guide for Journalists, Government Accountability Project outlined a series of recommendations for journalists when working with sources who qualify as whistleblowers. Although whistleblowers can provide essential information to reporters, it is important to recognize the unique dangers whistleblowing sources face and how the press can affect their lives and the impact of their disclosures.