White House Chief of Staff John Kelly overhauled the security clearance operation after former Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned in February.
Porter’s resignation was the result of news that he would not receive the required security clearance necessary to perform his duties, due to previous allegations of physical and emotional abuse by his two ex-wives. Porter denies the allegations.
Kelly’s response in light of the clearance denial and Porter’s resignation was to discontinue interim security clearances for some White House staffers whose background checks had been pending since June 2017 or before. He wrote the following in a memo to members of a security clearance working group, according to The Wall Street Journal:
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted—especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information.”
The new policy decreases the length of time White House officials can hold an interim clearance.
Kelly’s memo also proposed “a more formalized process for conveying to the White House counsel’s office ‘significantly derogatory’ information if the FBI finds it during the course of background checks,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Nicolle Wallace, a former communications director during President George W. Bush’s time in the White House, and Alyssa Mastromonaco, former deputy chief of staff in the Obama White House, discussed on MSNBC in February what it might be like to perform duties such as those performed by Porter without a permanent clearance.
When Wallace asked the question, Mastromonaco said she didn’t know, and explained that in the Situation Room, a sign is posted that states the clearance level of the meeting, and almost everything is top secret, at a minimum.
The concern boils down to fear of blackmail, HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen said on MSNBC.
Porter’s difficulties were lumped onto previous stories where President Donald Trump was “basically blackmailed” by an adult film actress and a Playboy playmate, and ongoing questions about Jared Kushner’s vulnerability to China due to his business dealings. Read more about Jared Kushner’s case here.
“It seems unthinkable that you would have people working in this White House that’s already got a background of playing fast and loose, and a vulnerability to blackmail at the highest levels, that you would continue to have folks who are working without appropriate clearances,” Polgreen said.
Although the White House had placed blame on the FBI and CIA for dragging out the interim clearance process, the problem is that some employees, including Kushner, have either lied or omitted information on their SF-86 forms, which required revisions.
Wallace said it isn’t up to the FBI to make a final recommendation.
“They’re trying to ascertain if what was disclosed is the only area of concern,” she said.
The FBI turns the information over to White House counsel and the final decision is made by the White House managers.
The Porter story raised questions about whether he ever should have handled the classified material that reaches Trump’s desk, The Hill reported.
One former official said that the White House typically would have run a name check on Porter as he was joining the administration, which would have revealed the record of a protective order that one of Porter’s ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby, filed against him in 2010.
No one has said whether Porter disclosed the abuse allegations on his SF-86. Lying on the form could trigger criminal prosecution, according to The Hill.