John Kelly signs off on a major overhaul of White House security clearance procedures

White House chief of staff John Kelly during a press briefing.

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White House chief of staff John Kelly during a press briefing.
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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

  • White House chief of staff John Kelly signed off on major changes in the way the White House will handle security-clearance investigations involving its staff.
  • According to a memo to other high-ranking officials, background investigations are to be hand-delivered to the White House’s legal team.
  • An FBI official would then verbally brief the White House counsel on “significantly derogatory information” discovered during its investigation.

Following an embarrassing scandal that led to the ouster of a top White House aide earlier this month, chief of staff John Kelly signed off on changes to the way the White House handles security-clearance investigations involving its staff.

In a memo sent to a list of officials that included White House counsel Don McGahn, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Kelly acknowledges that “we should, and in the future, must, do better.”

“In ordinary circumstances, the existing processes we inherited, along with the reforms I have implemented in the past months, have generally worked well,” Kelly said in the memo. “But recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings.”

The memo continues to say that the background investigations “of potential Commissioned Officers should be flagged for the FBI at the outset” and requires them to be “hand-delivered” to the White House’s counsel afterward. The FBI official who delivers the files is then required to “verbally brief” the counsel on information the bureau considered “significantly derogatory.”

Procedures for granting interim top-secret clearances will also be changed, according to the memo. Any interim top-secret clearance for people with pending investigations or adjudications since June 1, 2017 or before will be discontinued.

Kelly also proposed that the significant derogatory information discovered in the background check be reported to the White House in 48 hours.

The White House was mired in scandal over its security-clearance procedures after former staff secretary Rob Porter faced allegations of domestic and emotional abuse. Porter’s ex-wives provided photographs of injuries they say they received during the alleged abuse.

Porter, who had been working with an interim security clearance for over a year, denied the allegations and resigned last week after they became public.

Kelly’s response to the allegations raised suspicion after he made statements that appeared to conflict with the White House’s comments on when it became aware of the allegations. In the wake of the backlash, Kelly was rumored to have offered Trump his resignation.

Read the full memo here »