While much of the media’s attention on the Rob Porter scandal has focused on his alleged wife-beating and how Donald Trump was slow to condemn abuse of women, the “big picture” scandal here is Rob Porter’s security clearance.
Rob Porter handled highly sensitive, classified materials as part of his day-to-day duties, despite the fact that he did not — and could not get — a permanent security clearance after an FBI review on his background. The White House has repeatedly lied about Rob Porter. Here’s a timeline: “The White House timeline for how the Rob Porter scandal unfolded — including what they knew and when they knew — has been thoroughly debunked by testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray and extensive CNN reporting.” Despite being a national security risk, Porter was up for promotion despite abuse allegations.
One of Donald Trump’s central arguments against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election was that Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified information not only disqualified her for the presidency but was grounds for her imprisonment. “Lock her up!”
It turns out that Rob Porter is just the tip of the iceberg in this incompetent White House which permits the mishandling of classified information and jeopardizes our national security every day. NBC News reports, Scores of top White House officials lack permanent security clearances:
More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.
Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.
White House officials said Wednesday they would not comment, as is their policy, on the nature of security clearances. CNN also reported on the clearances earlier Wednesday evening. It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.
The documents also show that 10 months into Trump’s administration, at least 85 political appointees in the White House, vice president’s office and National Security Council were working without permanent security clearances. About 50 appointees were operating with interim security clearances while serving in offices closely linked to the West Wing, such as the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House executive residence.
White House officials who are listed as not having permanent security clearances as recently as this past November include Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Dan Scavino, the president’s director of social media; and Christopher Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; according to the documents.
All four are listed as operating with interim clearances only for information classified as “top secret” and “TS/SCI,” which is shorthand for “top secret, sensitive compartmented information.”
A total of 34 people who started their government service on Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of the Trump presidency, were still on interim clearances in November.
Among them are White House counsel Don McGahn, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who had only interim clearances to access the most sensitive government information, according to the documents. Each of them had obtained permanent clearances to access top-secret materials, a lower clearance that would prevent access to information, for example, in the president’s daily intelligence brief.
On the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents — about 42 percent — had only interim security clearances as of November. Those officials listed as working without permanent security clearances include Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser for strategy who left her post in January. Powell’s clearance process did not begin until March 2017. Her replacement, Nadia Schadlow, joined the Trump White House in March 2017 and was still on an interim clearance in mid-November.
Other prominent NSC members listed as operating on interim clearances, included Fiona Hill, the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian affairs; Kevin Harrington, the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning; and John Rader, special assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Joshua Steinman, the NSC’s senior director for international cybersecurity.
A White House official on Thursday, however, said that Steinman had full clearance all along and was erroneously on the list, and that Hill had received hers after the list was compiled.
Security clearances can change over time, and legal experts said the lack of a permanent security clearance does not mean there is something problematic in an individual’s background.
Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, said during congressional testimony earlier this week that he would recommend minimal access to classified documents to anyone without a permanent security clearance.
“But if you do that, it has to be a specific interim with controlled access and limited access, and that has to be clear right from the beginning,” Coats said. “You can’t just say an interim allows me to do anything.”
The levels of clearance listed in the documents for the political appointees varied from secret to top secret to SCI.
The most senior White House officials are vetted for top-secret and SCI clearance. Top secret includes information that if revealed is expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security, according to a report written in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office. SCI is described as “classified information concerning, or derived from, intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes that must be handled within formal access control systems established by the Director, Central Intelligence Agency.”
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Scavino has been in Trump’s orbit for decades, and was one of the first employees on his 2016 campaign. He is among the White House officials most often at the president’s side, capturing candid moments and critical meetings on camera that he disseminates to the president’s vast social media following.
One White House official, George Banks, a special assistant to the president for economic policy, resigned Wednesday after he was reportedly informed he would not receive a permanent security clearance.
Congressional Democrats have been raising concerns about security clearance issues involving Trump officials since the transition period in 2016. Last October, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, requested detailed information on all White House staff who had interim clearances.
But the White House’s struggle to provide a consistent account for the circumstances involving former staff secretary Rob Porter’s clearance review led a top Republican to formally launch an investigation for the first time this week.
In separate letters to White House chief of staff John Kelly and FBI director Christopher Wray, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., requested information from the White House and FBI about how interim clearances are investigated and adjudicated, and whether Porter’s specific case conformed to those procedures.
Separately, a group of Senate Democrats asked Wray to provide a list of individuals in the White House who hold interim security clearances.
“We are deeply concerned that high level officials operating under an interim security clearance, like Jared Kushner, read the President’s daily intelligence briefing,” the senators wrote.
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The issue of security clearances has been simmering for months and boiled over nine days ago when a Daily Mail report about alleged domestic violence committed by Porter also revealed that he had been working without a permanent security clearance. Porter resigned last week. His replacement, Derek Lyons, also appeared to be working with an interim security clearance as recently as November, according to the documents.
David Graham at The Atlantic explains How the White House Gamed the Security-Clearance System: Even when the FBI recommends against granting a clearance, there’s nothing to prevent the president from simply overriding the system.
And then, of course, there is the greatest national security risk of all: Donald Trump, who has already been caught red-handed divulging the most sensitive code word classified intelligence from our ally Israel to his Russian handlers while yucking it up with his comrades in the oval office.
One of Donald Trump’s other central arguments in the 2016 presidential election was that he was going to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. Instead, he has been busily filling the swamp with the most unethical White House in recent memory.
Aaron Blake of the Washington Post reports, More than 40 percent of Trump’s first Cabinet-level picks have faced ethical or other controversies:
President Trump came to Washington promising to “drain the swamp.” But after less than 13 months, more than 40 percent of the people he originally picked for Cabinet-level jobs have faced ethical or other controversies. The list has grown quickly in recent weeks.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt are that latest to have their questionable travel practices probed. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that an inspector general’s report determined Shulkin and top aides doctored an email and otherwise misled it about expenses for a controversial 10-day European trip Shulkin took with his wife. The Post also reported Sunday that Pruitt has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on first-class travel; since then his agency has said it obtained a waiver for him to fly first-class for security reasons.
The two of them join three other Cabinet-level officials who have faced ethical questions over their travels. Four other initial Cabinet-level picks have also been confronted with ethical or personal controversies — including in recent weeks now-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly (an original Cabinet pick) and Health and Human Services Secretary Ben Carson.
In total now, nine out of the 22 people Trump initially picked for Cabinet-level posts have found themselves facing scrutiny over their actions.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Former Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price: Resigned over frequent use of charter flights
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: Mixing official travel with political events
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: Requesting a military jet to fly him and his wife to Europe for their honeymoon, a trip to Fort Knox where the couple viewed the solar eclipse
False statements (2):
- Kelly (who was initially Trump’s Homeland Security secretary): His handling of the Rob Porter scandal including reportedly telling staff to spread falsehoods, making false statements about a congresswoman
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Recused himself from the Russia investigation amid controversy over whether he lied about contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign
Personal controversies (2):
- Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder: Withdrew over concerns about past employment of an undocumented housekeeper and later-recanted domestic violence accusations from an ex-wife
- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: Disregarded department lawyers’ warnings about letting his son organize a “listening tour,” which officials warned might have been used to advance his children’s business dealings
Not all of these are created equal — nor are they all scandal-level situations. But they do highlight what has been a pretty rocky first year-plus for the Trump Cabinet. The repeated travel controversies, in particular, suggest the administration isn’t running a particularly tight ethical ship or that there is a ton of overcompensation for Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.”
“There are certainly other ways for Trump to drain the swamp. But his Cabinet picks are proving a particularly stark example of where that effort has come up short.”
Blake’s quick summary only focuses on cabinet-level officers. The chaos of this White House produces a “scandal of the day” on a daily basis. A full list of all the scandals in the Trump administration is virtually impossible, as a new one surfaces almost every day.