John Kelly orders new security clearance measures in memo

It’s unclear how the orders would impact Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

By Nicole Karlis

Published February 17, 2018 4:33PM (EST)

John Kelly (AP/Susan Walsh)
John Kelly (AP/Susan Walsh)

Chief of Staff John Kelly wrote a five-page memo to address ongoing security clearance concerns regarding White House staff, in addition to ordering actions that would impact those operating under the ambiguous interim security clearance.

The memo, which was published on Friday afternoon, was addressed to Donald F. McGahn II, Counsel to the President; Herbert Raymond McMaster, Joseph W. Hagin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and copied Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“The events of the last ten days have focused immense attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations,” Kelly states in the memo. “The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been closely vetted -- especially those who work closely with the President or handle sensitive national security information.”

Porter’s resignation following domestic abuse allegations have indeed raised a bipartisan focus on security clearances and White House staff. On Feb. 14, even House Republicans opened an investigation into the Trump administration regarding the handling of security clearances.

"I spent two decades believing women and children who alleged abuse, even sometimes when no one else did, so whether or not there’s a security clearance issue or not, I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment whether there’s a security clearance or not," House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said on CNN.

According to the House Oversight Committee, after Wray testified before a Senate committee on Feb. 13 and revealed that the FBI may have been in the dark about the security waiver that granted Porter access, more questions needed be answered by the White House.

Kelly’s memo is likely a response to these bipartisan demands.

In the memo, Kelly also notes all of the ways in which reforms have been implemented since he’s started as Chief of Staff, such as a “renewed emphasis on training and best practices for handling classified information.” He also claims that in September he “ended the granting of new interim clearances absent extraordinary circumstances and my explicit approval.”

His list of suggested orders include: developing a written protocol “governing review of security files,” working with the FBI to reduce lag time in “discovery of derogatory information,” and to impose a time limit—180 days—on future interim security clearances.

In addition to the aforementioned orders, Kelly proposes to limit access to “certain highly classified information” for those with interim clearances “absent explicit Chief of Staff’s office approval.” An approval that “would only be granted in the most compelling circumstances.” Kelly also orders White House employees with interim security clearances whose background investigations have been ongoing since June 1 should be revoked next Friday.

The New York Times speculates this proposal could “strip Mr. Kushner, and perhaps Ivanka Trump, his wife, of their ability to participate in meetings or handle documents with secret information.”

However, if Kushner’s review began after June 1, he could be able to maintain his security status.

Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a staff writer at Salon. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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