Trump says security clearance process is actually too rigorous

He says the system is "broken" -- because his officials aren't getting clearances fast enough.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, President Donald Trump and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner. CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, President Donald Trump and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner. CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A week after his chief of staff ordered an overhaul of the process for granting White House security clearances, President Donald Trump on Friday blamed an overly rigorous background vetting process for holding up the approval of his son-in-law’s permanent security clearance.

“It’s a broken system and it shouldn’t take this long,” said Trump during a joint news conference at the White House with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

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Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is one of the president’s top advisers and works on a myriad of high-level and sensitive national security issues such as brokering peace in the Middle East. And more than a year into Trump’s presidency, Kushner continues to work under an interim security clearance, which gives him access to highly sensitive intelligence information.

The issues with granting such access on an interim basis came under scrutiny earlier this month after one of Trump’s top aides, Rob Porter, was forced to step down amidst allegations of spousal abuse that were revealed in media reports. Porter was likewise operating under an interim security clearance, and the ordeal exposed serious flaws and shortcomings in the White House’s handling of those allegations and security clearance process. Several top White House officials were told numerous times about the allegations against Porter and the fact that they were holding up his clearance. 

In a memo distributed to White House staff last Friday, Chief of Staff John Kelly announced that all White House employees with background investigations pending since June 1 will have their temporary clearances revoked as of today, the New York Times reported.   

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But earlier this week, White House officials said that crackdown won’t affect Kushner or the work he’s doing, according to a USA Today report that noted Kushner has had to amend a national security questionnaire after he failed to disclose contacts with Russian nationals and others.

Administration officials have tried to portray the delay in Kushner’s security clearance as normal, and told Politico that high level administration officials who require the highest clearance undergo heightened scrutiny.  

But on Friday, CNN revealed that Kushner hasn’t obtained a full security clearance partly because of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and that Kushner likely won’t receive full clearance while the probe is underway.

On Friday, the Washington Post also reported that a top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that “significant information requiring additional investigation” would further delay Kushner’s security clearance process.

The issues with Kushner’s security clearance process has left some senators concerned, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

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Earlier this month, after CNN reported that several dozen other Trump administration appointees lack full security clearance, Blumenthal and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked the inspector general for the intelligence community to investigate the Trump administration’s security clearance procedures.

“We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance,” the senators wrote in the letter.  

On Friday, at the White House news conference, Trump complained that the vetting process takes “months and months and months” even for people who don’t have complex financial issues.

“Do you know how many people are on that list. People with not a problem in the world,” said Trump. “So that will be up to General Kelly… General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call. I won’t make that call.”