Sunday, February 25News That Matters

The Rob Porter story is just the tip of a national security iceberg

Buried down in the details of the Rob Porter story, and in the latest round of excuses about the Rob Porter story, are some mysteries that go beyond that one particular wife-beating SOB. During Tuesday’s intelligence hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray made it clear that the FBI completed its background check on Porter by July, only to have the White House request additional information. On Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pinned the blame for the everything related to Porter on the White House Personnel Security Office.

While Sanders repeatedly described the Personnel Security Office as “staffed by career officials,” the office actually reports to Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin. Hagin, a veteran of both Bush administrations, in turn reports to John Kelly. The office makes the applications for all White House staff, but it expedites the process for senior staff. In fact, the process generally completes within a few weeks, since these positions are given special attention both by the White House and the FBI to keep them moving.

So why, after the FBI turned over what it considered a “final” report on Porter, was the White House asking for information that took more than six additional months to collect? Why did the White House Personnel Security Office impose a ban on handing out more interim security clearances in November? And why, more than a year after being appointed a senior adviser at the White House, is Jared Kushner still operating on an interim clearance? 

The Nov. 7 internal email to senior leaders at the Office of Management and Budget said the White House personnel security office had advised that it would no longer grant interim security clearances. Pending requests for interim clearances were expected to be denied, though exceptions could be requested, according to the email.

Someone inside the White House clearly recognized that handing out interim clearance like candy was a bad idea. Was that person Hagin? Was this change coordinated with Kelly or others in the West Wing? And just how many of those “exceptions” were requested? As the House Oversight committee gets down to looking at this, it turns out there’s a lot more here to look at than just Rob Porter.