Interim security clearances are routine, but are they risky?

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:15 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:14 AM


            In this Nov. 29, 2017 file photo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, walks with White House staff secretary Rob Porter to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this Nov. 29, 2017 file photo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, walks with White House staff secretary Rob Porter to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Rob Porter, who resigned from his White House job following allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, held an interim security clearance while working as President Donald Trump's staff secretary.

Interim clearances are routinely issued — some because of a massive government backlog of hundreds of thousands of security clearance reviews. But in Porter's case, the White House said he was holding an interim clearance because his background check had not yet been completed.

It's unclear how many other White House employees are working under interim clearances. That's something three Senate Democrats want the independent intelligence community watchdog to find out.

Here are some questions and answers about getting security clearances:

Q: Why are interim clearances issued?

According to the FBI, interim security clearances are granted in "exceptional circumstances" — when someone must perform official functions before authorities can complete a full background check and decide whether to issue a full security clearance.

The FBI says, however, that when an interim clearance is granted, "the background investigation must be expedited, and, if unfavorable information is developed at any time, the interim security clearance may be withdrawn."

It's unclear why the background investigation had not been completed for Porter, who started his job when Trump took office.

The FBI wouldn't comment on the specifics of the Porter case. But a spokeswoman said the bureau doesn't grant or deny clearances or make recommendations. After its investigation is completed, the information is provided to the agency that requested the background check and the agency — in this case the White House — decides whether to grant or deny the clearance.

Q: Is it risky to hand out interim clearances?"

A government backlog of 700,000 security clearance reviews has led agencies like the Defense Department to inadvertently issue interim passes to criminals — even rapists and killers — prompting calls for better and faster vetting of people with access to the nation's secrets.

The pileup, which is government-wide, is causing work delays for both federal and private intelligence efforts. It takes about four months to acquire a clearance to gain access to "secret" information on a need-to-know basis, and nine to 10 months for "top-secret" clearance.

Dan Payne, director of the U.S. Defense Security Service, has said that interim clearances are necessary so that government business is not halted, but he says it's risky.

Q: Do allegations of spousal abuse prevent somebody from getting a security clearance?

Attorneys who specialize in security clearance representation said that Porter should have disclosed the allegations when he filed his lengthy national security application. But they disagreed on whether the allegations were automatically disqualifying.

"Just because you have an accusation of domestic violence, (it) would not preclude you from having security clearance, especially if you have no arrests," said Greg T. Rinckey, an attorney and founding partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC.

John V. Berry, who represents government employees and contractors, said he's had clients whose applications have been denied because of alleged domestic assaults. He noted that it's ultimately the president who decides these issues.

Q: Are clearance controversies new to the White House?

No. Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka was unable to get clearance for the National Security Council after he was charged in 2016 with carrying a weapon at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Democrats also have questioned foreign contacts that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner omitted from this security clearance application and why the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was allowed access to classified information after learning that he had misled administration officials about the content of conversations with a Russian diplomat.

"In response to this troubling conduct, members of the Senate have sent several requests for information to the administration seeking clarification on the security clearance review process and the status of these individuals and others at the White House," Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii wrote in a letter Thursday to the acting inspector general of the intelligence community.

___

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

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“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

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Photo shows Michigan congresswoman playing Candy Crush during State of the Union

Published: Saturday, February 03, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

Highlights of President Trump’s First State of the Union Address

A Democratic congresswoman from Michigan was caught playing Candy Crush on her phone during Tuesday's State of the Union address.

A Getty photographer captured U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence playing the game on her iPhone during President Trump's address, the Detroit Free Press reported. Other photographs taken during the address show many legislators using their phones.

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Lawrence is a former mayor of Southfield, Michigan. She was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent Michigan's 14th District and is in her second term, the Free Press reported. Her office did not respond to the Free Press for a request for comment on the photo.

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