Chief Of Staff Kelly Wants New White House Security Clearance Rules
Updated at 8:05 p.m. ET
Chief of staff John Kelly on Friday called for an overhaul of White House security clearance standards, following criticism that a top aide was allowed to remain on the job despite allegations of domestic abuse.
The new rules come in the wake of Rob Porters' departure last week after reports that he had abused his two former wives. Porter was working as the White House staff secretary on an interim security clearance.
The ex-wives have said they shared their allegations with the FBI. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the bureau had completed its investigation into Porter in July. The White House says the subsequent portion of the background check process, conducted by the White House personnel security office, was ongoing at the time of Porter's resignation.
The allegations against Porter, including a photo of one of the women with a black eye, rocked the White House, which gave varying accounts of who knew what and when.
In a memo addressed to White House counsel Donald McGahn and others released by the White House on Friday, Kelly said, "We should — and in the future, must — do better."
Among the actions Kelly ordered is for the FBI, which conducts the background investigations for senior personnel, to hand deliver their reports to the counsel "personally upon completion." Furthermore, Kelly said, the FBI official who delivers these files should "verbally brief the White House Counsel on any information in those files they deem to be significantly derogatory."
Kelly also said the administration should work with the FBI to "reduce the time lag between the discovery of significant derogatory information from fieldwork to the disclosure to the White House," with a goal of informing senior staff of such information within 48 hours of discovery.
The new rules would also discontinue any top secret or higher-level interim clearances for individuals whose background investigations have been pending since June 1, 2017, or before.
That restriction would appear to cut off access to key government secrets, including the president's daily intelligence briefing, to President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who still does not have permanent security clearance.
Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kelly's announcement "will not affect Mr. Kushner's ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President." Lowell also said Kushner "has done more than what is expected of him in this process."
"My inquiries to those involved again have confirmed that there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner's level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration, that the current backlogs are being addressed, and no concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner's application," Lowell added.
In his memo, Kelly noted that others, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have said the security clearance process "is broken" across the government and needs to be overhauled. Kelly said different agencies have different standards, and "we need to do better across the board." Kelly specifically mentioned allegations of domestic abuse.
"In the past," Kelly wrote, "credible and substantiated reports of past domestic abuse — even physical abuse — were not considered automatic disqualifiers for suitability for employment or a security clearance. That needs to be revisited. Generally, our treatment of behavior that traditionally may not have been disqualifying should be modernized."
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