COS John Kelly Orders Security Clearance Changes After Rob Porter Scandal

Under pressure over his handling of abuse allegations against a top aide, White House chief of staff John Kelly on Friday ordered sweeping changes in how the White House clears staff members to gain access to classified information, acknowledging that the administration "must do better" in how it handles security clearances.

Per the memo - sent Friday to White House counsel Don McGahn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin - White House employees with interim clearances would only be allowed to review certain information if they received approval from the chief of staff's office. The Trump administration later said Porter's background investigation remained open because the White House Personnel Security Office, which approves clearances, had not completed its work.

Credible recent reports indicate that 30-40 White House staff now have full access to highly sensitive classified information with only interim security clearances.

A new background system will also establish a process for updating senior officials on the end of a background investigation, Kelly said.

Porter resigned from is position as staff secretary last week after published detailed, on-the-record allegations from two ex-wives who say the former Trump aide abused them.

The White House has struggled to explain its handling of the Porter matter, offering several versions of events in recent days.

Beyond addressing processes that he suggested were at fault for allowing Porter to remain as a senior aide to the President, Kelly said he also plans to work with the attorney general, Federal Bureau of Investigation director, director of national intelligence, defense secretary and CIA director to "streamline, harmonize and modernize standards across the executive branch" - citing a larger problem.

Rob Porter is not the first individual to be employed and given clearance despite domestic abuse allegations.

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

The FBI says it gave the Trump administration information on multiple occasions previous year about a top aide accused of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives, and the investigation wrapped up in January. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray are copied.

But people who worked on both sides of such investigations in past administrations said in interviews this week that the White House's portrayal of the role played by the security office is inconsistent with how it previously operated. Has the F.B.I. provided information to the White House about whether Mr. Kushner will be able to obtain a permanent security clearance, and whether he is ineligible for any category of security clearance?

McGahn was apprised of at least some of the accusations about Porter at least four times, including as early as January 2017, according to White House officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The Porter saga has also raised serious questions about how the White House handles security clearances. He also ended in September the practice of granting new interim security clearances "absent extraordinary circumstances" and his signoff, and directed a review of pending security clearance applications. He said additional information was turned over to the White House this month, maintaining that proper protocols had been followed.

  • Jon Douglas