White House tries to deflect questions about Porter's security clearance

- Februari 12, 2018

President Donald Trump’s White House on Monday said it relies on law enforcement to determine which background issues disqualify people from top jobs, as his administration seeks to distance itself from the controversy over a former aide who was accused of domestic abuse.

But people familiar with the process for obtaining clearance for senior officials said the FBI’s background check process does not include making any final decisions or recommendations — and that the White House should have been closely involved in any decision to give Rob Porter a security sign-off.

The White House has come under scrutiny after it became clear that Porter, as well as dozens of other officials, had been working without a permanent security clearance. White House officials were aware of at least the broad outlines of the accusations against Porter by two ex-wives before the news became public last week and led to his exit.


Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday told reporters she did not want to delve into the details of the clearance process, but she said the White House deferred to law enforcement on such decisions.

“Look this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House,” Sanders said. “It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community, and we support that process. It’s the same process that has been used for decades for other and previous administrations.”

“We do rely on the same process that has been used for decades, and if changes are thought to be made, that would be made by the law enforcement and intel communities that run that process, not the White House,” she said later in Monday’s press briefing.

But an FBI official said the bureau typically does not determine who receives a security clearance or even make recommendations.

“The FBI conducts background investigations on behalf of specific agencies, but we do not grant or deny or otherwise adjudicate security clearances on behalf of these agencies, and we don’t make security clearance recommendations,” the official said.

Rather, the FBI conducts a background check and presents its findings to the agency at issue. “They decide whether or not to grant or deny the clearance,” the official said.

The White House did not respond to a request for more information on the clearance process.


A lawyer who worked in President Barack Obama’s White House said the FBI alerted his administration to any red flags it found in background checks. Those problems sometimes resulted in people being denied positions, even if they would not necessarily have derailed a security clearance, the attorney said.

“If someone we were bringing on board had allegations of domestic abuse, we would have heard about it as soon as the FBI heard about it,” said the former Obama White House lawyer.

“What happened with Porter is what inevitably happens in the sense that it’s going to come out eventually,” the former White House attorney said. “All this stuff, you do it for two reasons. First, because you don’t want some domestic abuser in the White House. Second, to protect the White House from exactly what is happening now.”


 

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