John Kelly overhauls White House security clearances

The president wished Porter well while speaking to journalists in the Oval Office on Friday

Following an embarrassing scandal that led to the ouster of a top White House aide earlier this month, chief of staff John Kelly signed off on changes to the way the White House handles security-clearance investigations involving its staff.

"You also testified yesterday that the FBI completed a background investigation into White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter in late July, yet he remained in his position until last week", the senators wrote.

"We should - and in the future, must - do better", Kelly wrote in a memo to staff.

The Washington Post reports that Kushner, whose portfolio encompasses issues ranging from the Middle East peace process to modernizing the federal government's use of technology, has put in more requests for USA intelligence information than any White House staffer not working for the National Security Council. Given that the F.B.I. conducts a background investigation into every individual working at the White House as part of the security clearance process, we respectfully request that you provide the names of all individuals who now hold interim security clearances, and the status of their F.B.I. background investigations.

The chief of staff held several "after-action meetings" in the past week. "But recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings".

In light of this, Kelly announced the creation of a working group.

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The chief of staff states that a "number of reforms have already been implemented", but does not offer a timeline of when some of these changes have been made, such as requiring all security clearances to be approved by his office and having the Personnel Security Office make a "suitability determination before being on-boarded and granted access to the White House complex".

Kelly said he wanted the derogatory information discovered in the FBI's background investigations to be reported within 48 hours of its discovery.

To be sure, there appear to be plenty of White House officials whose security clearance status remains in question. This change ensures (1) accountability by ensuring that critical material will be differentiated from the ordinary volume of communications and delivered quickly and directly to the appropriate person rather than through layers of intermediaries and offices; and (2) that subjectivity will be minimized, I.e., eliminating the need to decide whether certain information is "derogatory" or not. The FBI official who delivers the files is then required to "verbally brief" the counsel on information the bureau considered "significantly derogatory". On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House "learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter" on February 6 and that his background check "was ongoing, hadn't been completed".

Continue to work closely with the Personnel Security Office to ensure timely recommendations of the highest quality that are free from political interference or considerations.

Kelly also ordered that any temporary clearances with access to certain levels of classified information would be revoked if the background investigations into the individuals with the clearances had been pending since June. Similar reviews will occur monthly for long-outstanding adjudications. According to NBC News, more than 130 people were working in the White House with interim clearances as of November, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

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