Has John Kelly’s spreadsheet claimed another White House head? The suddenly urgent process of reviewing security clearances resulted in the ouster of a longtime member of the inner Trump circle, albeit a relatively obscure one. John McEntee, Donald Trump’s personal assistant from the first days of the campaign, didn’t even get a chance to retrieve his jacket before getting escorted out of the White House:
President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was escorted out of the White House on Monday, two senior administration officials said. The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue, said a third White House official with knowledge of the situation. …
Mr. McEntee wasn’t as well known as the others, but had been a constant presence at Mr. Trump’s side for the past three years. He made sure Mr. Trump had markers to sign autographs, delivered messages to him in the White House residence and, over the weekend, ensured that the clocks in the White House residence were adjusted for daylight-saving time.
“It’s not going to be great for morale,” one White House official said about Mr. McEntee’s departure.
Mr. McEntee was removed from the White House grounds on Monday afternoon without being allowed to collect his belongings, a White House official said. He left without his jacket, a second White House official said.
ABC later corroborated the WSJ report:
JUST IN: Pres. Trump’s personal aide John McEntee escorted out of the White House yesterday amid issues with his background clearance, sources confirm to @ABC.
McEntee is the latest original Trump campaign aide to depart the White House.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 13, 2018
The White House has not commented officially on McEntee’s departure. The WSJ heard from its West Wing sources that McEntee told them it was “an issue in his background.” That raises all sorts of questions about vetting within the White House and the Trump campaign, issues that came up during the campaign itself and the transition in late 2016-early 2017.
CNN, however, hears something much more acute prompted the firing:
NEWS: Johnny McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing tells CNN.
This source says the charges are not Trump related.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 13, 2018
President Trump’s personal aide Johnny McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing tells CNN https://t.co/n09VdRlb8b pic.twitter.com/anoqny6OdM
— CNN (@CNN) March 13, 2018
When precisely were these financial crimes allegedly committed? And why would DHS be the lead agency in investigating financial crimes? The Secret Service works under DHS now and they have jurisdiction over counterfeiting, but that’s it. DHS has some jurisdiction on cross-border financial crimes, but one would expect the lead agency to be Treasury and their Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
McEntee, according to the WSJ report, was one of the closest figures to Trump on a daily basis. Just as with Rob Porter, who got bounced from his job a few weeks ago, McEntee appeared to have near-universal access to the president. If these two men had background issues serious enough to warrant ejection from the White House now — and the security response to McEntee’s termination seems to suggest that in his case — then it’s worth asking whether these security issues compromised the president over the last fourteen months of his presidency, too. Even if these background issues didn’t compromise the president’s safety, that kind of information can be used to extort access to highly sensitive information … which is why people who fill these positions have to undergo intensive background checks in the first place.
Kelly, with his background in the military and intelligence, knows this better than most. That’s why he has his spreadsheet and is cleaning up after sloppy security practices now, but even that raises questions. Why did it take exposing Porter for Kelly to start taking security seriously? And who else will turn out to have significant security issues in their background which might or should have disqualified them for access to a president?
But don’t worry too much about McEntee. He’ll land on his feet. Oh look, he already has:
Oh and Katrina Pierson is back on the Trump campaign as a senior adviser pic.twitter.com/Jq1yzhL2hZ
— Daniel Strauss (@DanielStrauss4) March 13, 2018
Even without the report that McEntee is being investigated for financial crimes, this hiring makes zero sense. Security issues are less of an issue on a campaign, but they’re not totally irrelevant either. Trump is living through a special-counsel nightmare at least in part because of “senior advisers” like Roger Stone and Carter Page, among others, in the 2016 cycle. If the security issue makes McEntee a risk for extortion (which to be clear has not yet been established), then that matters in a presidential campaign too. With a DHS probe over financial crimes — whatever that means and if it turns out to be true — adding McEntee to the campaign practically begs Democrats to attack Trump for swampish corruption.
Addendum: His new co-workers will look forward to the fun to come with McEntee’s arrival (via Jeryl Bier):
— John McQuaid (@johnmcquaid) March 13, 2018
I doubt this was the security issue, but perhaps the White House isn’t exactly the best environment for practical jokes involving forgery.