McGahn carries an asterisk: He has a full clearance to view most classified material, including “top secret” documents, but only an interim clearance to handle the utmost secret stuff that includes sensitive compartmented information. Still, how is that possible? He’s the White House counsel! Background checks take time, sure, but he’d naturally go to the front of the line in being vetted and cleared by the FBI due to the importance of his role. So why haven’t they cleared him yet?
Also among those stuck with interim clearances as of three months ago: Ten members of … the National Security Council.
What is happening?
Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance…
On the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents — about 42 percent — had only interim security clearances as of November. Those officials listed as working without permanent security clearances include Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser for strategy who left her post in January. Her replacement, Nadia Schadlow, joined the Trump White House in March 2017 and was still on an interim clearance in mid-November.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were still on interim clearances to view “top secret” and SCI information as of November. Omarosa, who had direct contact with the president. had no security clearance whatsoever.
Ah, well, it’s just bureaucracy, right? There’s a backlog in processing clearances and the Trump administration started slow, trashing Chris Christie’s transition plan after the election and starting from scratch. Plus, the Trump White House is chock full of rich people like Jared, Ivanka, and Gary Cohn who have all sorts of foreign contacts and business ties from their private-sector careers. That’s going to take time.
Or is it? Cohn, a Goldman Sachs executive, already had full clearance by November, notes CNN. And various officials from past administrations, who are used to dealing with federal bureaucracy in granting clearances, find the delays here abnormal. Republican Mike Rogers, who used to chair the House Intel Committee, called it “unusual.” An Obama administration official remembered to NBC that it took a long time for some people to get cleared during O’s presidency but not *this* long, calling it a “big flag” that uppermost officials like McGahn and Kushner are still waiting. As of November, there were no fewer than 34 people in the executive office who’d been with Trump since Inauguration Day, now more than a year ago, who were still waiting for full clearances — among them “a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council’s senior director for international cybersecurity,” per CNN.
Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general for Obama, can’t believe it:
This story is unbelievable and a must read. The White House Counsel himself and others don’t have permanent high level clearances? Unforgivable. Never saw anything like this in 2 difft Administrations where I worked on these sensitive natl security matters https://t.co/IYChaGCI9T
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) February 15, 2018
Anyone out there familiar with the clearance process want to chip in with a non-ominous explanation for these delays, especially for Trump’s inner circle? I can buy the idea of a long backlog for lower-ranking officials but obviously it’s crucially important for national security that the people closest to the president, with access to the most sensitive intelligence, be at low risk for blackmail. The FBI would want to clear them expeditiously, I assume, and yet several were still without full clearance 10 months into Trump’s presidency. That’s risking a catastrophic security breach. What could explain the delay? Apart, I mean, from the FBI flatly refusing to clear certain people due to concerns about things they’ve found in background checks.
One thought: Kelly has taken most of the heat for ignoring Rob Porter’s inability to obtain a full clearance but McGahn himself had a huge role in that. A WaPo story last week pointed to Jared Kushner as a possible explanation. If Jared could operate on an interim clearance, McGahn’s office supposedly reasoned, how could they tell Porter that he couldn’t? After reading the NBC and CNN stories this morning, though, I wonder if it had anything to do with Kushner. Maybe it was McGahn’s own interim status that led him and his deputies to look the other way at Porter. After all, if they fired Porter for the hold-up in being cleared and then it came out that McGahn himself hadn’t been fully cleared for SCI material yet, what would they say?