In new memo, Kelly changes White House security clearance process

Chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is making changes to the White House security clearance process amid the controversy surrounding Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned after working for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE for months despite facing domestic abuse allegations.

In a memo obtained and first reported by The Washington Post, Kelly underlines a series of changes meant to address concerns that the White House is too loose with allowing aides to handle classified information while they have temporary clearances.

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“The events of the last ten days have focused immense attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations,” Kelly, who has come under fierce criticism himself over the handling of Porter, wrote in the memo.

“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted—especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information.

“We should — and in the future must — do better.”

The five-page memo details seven changes to the process, as well as the creation of a working group to “study the clearance process” and calls for future administrations to be made aware of any improvements to the process. 

The changes include calling on the FBI to specifically brief the White House counsel on any potential concerns flagged in a background check; aiming for the FBI to bring any problematic findings to the White House within two days from discovery; limiting new interim clearances to a maximum of 270 days; and cutting off certain clearances for employees whose clearance investigations have been pending since before June 1, 2017. 

He also calls for more formalized “benchmarks” for clearance review to help ensure that all of the agencies taking part in the process are on the same page. 

The administration has struggled to explain what its top officials knew about the allegations against Porter.  

FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress this week that his department sent the White House a partial report on the allegations against Porter back in March 2017, subsequently closing their background investigation into Porter in January.

The White House has repeatedly suggested that the investigation was still ongoing at the time of Porter's resignation. 

The chief of staff issued a strongly-worded defense of Porter to the Daily Mail before it published the allegations about Porter. Kelly then accepted his resignation and issued a stronger statement condemning domestic violence.

The Washington Post, however, reported that Kelly asked top White House staffers to portray him as calling for Porter to leave within 40 minutes of learning the extent of the allegations. 

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Cummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it's up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump MORE announced an investigation of the matter this week, and wrote to Kelly and other administration officials seeking information on security clearances.

NBC News reported this week that more than 100 White House staffers had temporary security clearances as of November, a list that included senior advisers Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Arrests at southern border drop to 64K in August MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie Trump2020 is not a family affair, for a change Katy Tur says it is 'shameful' that Congress hasn't passed new family leave law OPIC should strengthen US-Argentine partnership with Vaca Muerta deal MORE. Congressional Democrats have pressed the White House for a complete and up-to-date list. 

In the memo, Kelly notes that he has been concerned about security clearances from the beginning of his tenure in the White House, arguing that “security clearances were one of my earliest and most immediate concerns, and we have made significant progress since the first days of the administration.” 

He highlights changes already made to the clearance process, including an end to interim clearances “absent extraordinary circumstances.”