White House security clearances to undergo overhaul

By Danielle Haynes  |  Feb. 16, 2018 at 6:21 PM
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Feb. 16 (UPI) -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Friday announced measures to overhaul how security clearances are handled after the White House came under scrutiny over the background check of staff secretary Rob Porter.

Porter resigned earlier this month after two of his ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. Though Porter denied the allegations, his resignation raised questions about when the White House became aware of them.

Both women -- Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughy -- said they told the FBI about the alleged abuse when they were interviewed as part of Porter's security clearance process.

Kelly sent a five-page document to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, deputy chief of staff for operations Joseph Hagin and Donald McGahn, counsel to the president.

He said the Porter scandal "exposed some remaining shortcomings" in how the White House handles security clearances.

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI completed Porter's security clearance background investigation in July. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House "learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter" on Feb. 6 and that his background check "was ongoing, hadn't been completed."

Kelly said he has accepted help from the FBI in reviewing and improving the White House's protocols.

"Now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests," Kelly wrote in the letter reviewed by UPI. "My goal is to improve accountability while maintaining the critical objectivity necessary for the process to continue functioning without political interference."

Kelly ordered protocols be written and a formalization of delivery and notification between the White House and the FBI, which conducts the background checks.

"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 competition," the letter says. "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."

Additionally, Kelly said, the White House should "revisit" what constitutes as derogatory conduct that should preclude a candidate from receiving a security clearance.

"For example, in the past, credible and substantiated reports of past domestic abuse -- even physical abuse -- were not considered automatic disqualifies for suitability for employment or a security clearance," he wrote. "Generally, our treatment of behavior that traditionally may not have been disqualifying should be modernized."

On Wednesday, the House oversight committee opened an investigation into the differences between the White House and FBI's timelines on the background check of Porter.

"The committee is investigating the policies and processes by which interim security clearances are investigated and adjudicated within the executive branch, and the extent to which any security clearance issued to Porter comported with those policies and processes," Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a letter to Kelly.

"The committee seeks to better understand the criteria and the scope of an investigation for determining whether to issue an interim security clearance generally; what information was available to the adjudicator of Porter's interim clearance at the time it was adjudicated; who adjudicated his clearance; and what derogatory information was subsequently made available to the White House on Porter, when, and to whom."

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