Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post on Wednesday last week, following allegations of spousal abuse. Porter had been operating under an interim security clearance for the past year, drawing heavy criticism from those concerned that he had access to top secret documents.
Now, one senator is asking for the names and titles of dozens of other White House staffers, following reports that they, too, have been operating on interim security clearances.
“This White House has been contemptible about security,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in an interview with CNN’s New Day on Tuesday. “I’m going to be calling later today for the 30-40 names of the interim security clearances because I believe they are a threat to national security. They owe us those names.”
"This White House has been contemptible about security," says Sen. Richard Blumenthal. "I'm going to be calling later today for the the 30 to 40 names of the interim security clearances because I believe they are a threat to national security. They owe us those names." pic.twitter.com/cskR9uuScB
— New Day (@NewDay) February 13, 2018
Blumenthal was referring to a CNN report published on Friday that claimed 30 to 40 Trump administration appointees still did not possess full security clearance normally required to do their jobs. The White House has refused to disclose the number of staff still operating under interim clearances.
Rob Porter would have been included in that group, had he not left his job as staff secretary last week.
The staff secretary position comes with the important responsibility of managing the paper flow to the president’s desk. This includes highly-sensitive classified information. Past secretaries have included David Gergen, who worked under Ronald Reagan, and John Podesta, who worked for Bill Clinton.
The White House confirmed on Thursday that Porter had indeed been allowed to see classified materials while operating as staff secretary.
Another senior aide among the 30-40 staff still functioning on interim clearances is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been fighting to get a full clearance since he first started working as a senior White House adviser. His application notably contains an abnormal number of revisions — 39, to be exact –all introduced after officials noted several key omissions. Kushner does not handle the paper flow to the president, but he has been put in charge of the Middle East peace process and criminal justice reform, among other things.
White House staffers need security clearances because of the role they play in handling classified information around the president. Without them, staffers may be vulnerable to coercion or blackmail. Allegations of abuse from two of Porter’s ex-wives, for instance — which the White House may have known about for longer than previously disclosed — presented troubling national security threats, as they could have allowed an outside party to request access to top secret documents and threatened to expose him if he had not complied.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer a question about the White House’s policy on interim clearances and how long individuals using one were able to perform their duties. She said any decision to change the policy would be made by law enforcement and intelligence agencies who normally oversee the background check and clearance process. (If the White House or another executive branch agency asks law enforcement to conduct a background check for a staffer’s top secret security clearance, the FBI conducts it. That agency then takes the results of the background check and makes the decision of whether to issue a clearance.)
Blumenthal, along with Sens. Maisie Hirono (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), has since sent a letter to Wayne Stone, acting inspector general for the intelligence community, asking for an investigation into the Trump administration’s security clearance procedures.
“[…] Members of the Senate have sent several requests for information to the administration seeking clarification on the security clearance review process and the status of these individuals and others at the White House,” they wrote. “We have not received responses to these requests. We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance.”
The controversy over White House security clearances is especially notable, given that much of the 2016 election hinged on voters’ anger with how candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handled classified information, as well as her use of a private email server. During debates and along the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump attacked Clinton on the issue repeatedly, calling it a “disgrace.”
“One of the first things we must do is enforce all classification rules and to enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information,” Trump said in September 2016.
Trump himself later mishandled classified information during a meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office last May, according to the Washington Post. White House aides initially tried to deny the report, claiming that Trump had done nothing wrong and had shared only innocuous information with the Russians. Trump later undercut them and confirmed key details about the story on Twitter.