.@CeciliaVega: Chief of Staff John Kelly "has been frustrated by the number of aides" still on temporary security clearances.— ABC News (@ABC) February 9, 2018
Rob Porter, White House staffer who resigned two days ago, had been on a temporary security clearance, and Jared Kushner remains on one. pic.twitter.com/rtpuo4vIdv
UPDATE: Scores of White House staffers, including dozens working directly for President Donald Trump, have not been granted permanent security clearances, with some even lacking interim security clearances at all.
More than 130 staffers, who are political appointees of the president, didn’t have permanent clearances as of November. These are not just low-profile individuals but include some of Trump’s closest advisers, such as his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. More than two out of every five members of his National Security Council also lacked permanent security clearances.
Many individuals have interim security clearances, which are granted to people “pending the completion of the full investigative requirements for the final secret clearance,” according to Military.com. In other words, more information is needed on these individuals before they can obtain a higher level of clearance for sensitive documents and information.
People with interim clearances are also limited to what information can be shared with them. They are not privy to the same details that individuals with permanent security clearances receive, which can make it difficult when members of the White House staff have to consider whom they’re speaking with, and what they can say to them.
Having a few members of your staff with interim clearances isn’t too big of a deal, but some people have suggested that having this many in the Trump administration is hampering the nation’s interests, specifically on national security concerns.
“The security clearance process is critical to keeping America's secrets,” former Republican member of Congress Mike Rogers said. “Foreign intelligence services look for vulnerabilities in individuals with access to our most sensitive information. Not following the process is a disservice not only to the individual but to our countries security interests.”
Others in the White House have seen a different fate play out — some, like George David Banks who served on Trump's National Economic Council, have been told that their application for permanent status had been denied, resulting in them losing even interim clearance. Banks resigned earlier this week.
The fact that so many individuals in Trump’s White House don’t have permanent security clearances could also indicate something else: that these individuals require a deeper level of scrutiny, perhaps related to their connections with foreign governments, including Russia. If that’s the case, perhaps the president ought to consider having more scrupulous and upstanding people surrounding him, as opposed to the lot he’s currently selected.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned on Wednesday after being accused of domestic violence by his two ex-wives, was not the only Trump aide to have spent the past year having access to sensitive information without permanent security clearance.
According to The Washington Post, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and dozens of others working for the administration are currently operating with temporary approval. At least 30 officials and appointees in the White House lack full security clearance.
Although the security clearance approval process is slow and can regularly take more than a year, it’s rare for senior aides like Kushner to wait periods longer than three months for permanent approval.
Revelations that the administration knew that the FBI recommended denying Porter clearance because of the abuse allegations against him, combined with the fact that Kushner and several others in the White House are currently under investigation for possibly colluding with the Russian government to sway the 2016 election, make many of these aides’ continued access to top secret information extremely disturbing.
The vetting process for permanent security clearance has long been criticized — it was added to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s list of “high-risk” issues the federal government needs to fix in January — but the Trump administration continuing to grant individuals with suspicious or unethical backgrounds access to such sensitive material shows that it doesn’t ultimately care about what the FBI’s vetting results say.
While the FBI conducts the background checks and investigations for those trying to get clearance, it’s ultimately up to the White House Security Office to decide who does and doesn’t get approval — it doesn’t have to listen to the FBI’s recommendations.
According to the State Department, in order for a person to be approved for security clearance, “It must be determined that the individual’s personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion, and a willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information.”
That alone should disqualify Kushner and any other staffers being investigated for colluding with the Russian government.
Until the FBI and Justice Department’s probe is complete and no evidence of collusion is found, they should be granted neither temporary nor permanent security clearance.
Then again, when the president himself is under investigation, the chances that this will be taken seriously are slim to none.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Lawley Duggan, James