White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, under pressure over his handling of allegations of domestic abuse against a top aide, approved an overhaul of how the White House manages security-clearance investigations on Friday, acknowledging missteps but putting the onus on the FBI and the Justice Department to now hand-deliver updates and provide more information.
The five pages of proposed changes, signed by Kelly, was obtained by The Washington Post.
Kelly worked closely with White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn in discussing and outlining the changes, according to officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly. McGahn has also been criticized for his response to former White House aide Rob Porter’s clearance. Porter, who resigned last week, remained as staff secretary, with access to highly classified material, months after the claims of emotional and physical abuse by his two ex-wives were reported to the FBI.
Kelly begins the memo by stating that in the wake of the Porter scandal, “We should — and in the future, must — do better” and acknowledges that problems in the security-clearance process demanded attention.
Later, Kelly writes, “But recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings,” beyond the changes Kelly implemented since taking over as chief of staff last year. “Now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests.”
The document, titled “Improvements to the clearance process,” is addressed to McGahn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray are copied.
The memo says the FBI and Justice Department have offered their cooperation with Kelly’s requests in recent days, and that “going forward, all [background investigations] of potential Commissioned Officers should be flagged for the FBI at the outset and then hand-delivered to the White House Counsel personally upon completion. 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.”
The White House has struggled over the past week to explain how the security clearance process worked in Porter’s case and when top officials were informed about the allegations against him.
There have also been recent reports of dozens of White House aides working under interim clearances, raising further questions about the Trump administration’s handling of the issue and whether it is jeopardizing classified information.
The time frame laid out in the memo between derogatory information being found in a background check and it being reported to the White House is 48 hours. But Kelly writes he is still not sure whether this is achievable.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Robert Costa