Before Rob Porter resigned last week as the White House staff secretary, he was responsible for, among things, screening every document that reached the president’s desk. In other words, Porter had access to highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis.We now know that was a problematic dynamic. As Rachel explained on the show, Porter didn’t have, and apparently couldn’t get, a permanent security clearance. In fact, while he was handling highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis, Porter’s ex-wife was telling the FBI that he was a potential target for blackmail.
So, how is it, exactly, that Porter was cleared to handle secret information as part of his duties? It’s unlikely we’ll see any congressional hearings on this, but as Politico reported, Democratic lawmakers appear to be asking the right questions.
Democratic senators on Thursday requested an intelligence community investigation into security clearance procedures under President Donald Trump, after a White House aide who had not gotten full clearance announced he would resign over domestic abuse allegations.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to Wayne Stone, the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, asking for information about how the administration determines who can access classified information.
In their letter, the senators noted, “Members of the Senate have sent several requests for information to the administration seeking clarification on the security clearance review process.” After noting that those requests have gone unmet, they added, “We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance.”
They’re not alone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Committee, insisted last week that the Porter controversy is the latest reminder that the White House’s security clearance process needs “credible oversight.”
On Friday, a separate group of 12 senators from the Democratic conference wrote to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn, asking why Porter was hired to handle classified documents “despite the fact he could not get a security clearance.”
The controversy surrounding Porter has certainly helped elevate the questions, but it’d be a mistake to think Trump World’s problems with security clearances are limited to one aide.
Indeed, as the Washington Post reported the other day, there’s also the president’s son-in-law to consider.
White House Counsel Donald McGahn and other Trump administration officials have been so vexed by Jared Kushner’s months-long inability to obtain a permanent security clearance that they have hesitated to get involved in other cases with potential problems, several people familiar with the matter said.
Dozens of White House employees, including Kushner, are still waiting for permanent clearances and have been operating for months on a temporary status that allows them to handle sensitive information while the FBI probes their backgrounds, U.S. officials have said. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future.
Kushner, it’s worth noting, may not have a permanent security clearance, but he nevertheless has access to the highly sensitive presidential daily briefing – which Trump himself apparently chooses not to read.
As Rachel noted on Thursday, this comes on the heels of an NBC News report on a Defense Department investigation that found that “165 defense contractors had their initial security clearances revoked last year after further investigation linked the recipients to problematic or illicit activity, including questionable financial transactions, influence by foreign governments and even felonies like pedophilia.”
NBC News’ report added that the Pentagon’s report “shows how it is possible for people who have been compromised or who have criminal backgrounds to slip through the cracks of the preliminary background investigation and obtain access to sensitive national security-related information.”
It’s worth pausing from time to time to note that one of the core Republican arguments of the 2016 campaign was that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be trusted to responsibly handle classified materials. It was a dumb claim at the time, and in hindsight, it looks even worse.