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John Kelly overhauls White House security clearances

18 February 2018

In a memo released Friday, Kelly outlined a series of changes to the clearance process amid the controversy surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned over domestic abuse allegations.

"The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted", read the Kelly memo that emphasized the importance of this in regard to staff working closely with the President or handling "sensitive national security information".

Kelly begins the memo by stating that in the wake of the Porter scandal, "We should - and in the future, must - do better" and acknowledges that problems in the security-clearance process demanded attention.

It didn't come as much of a shock that FBI Director Christopher Wray's account of the timeline for spousal-abuse findings against just-dismissed White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter Feb. 13 made a shambles of the previous claims by key Trump Administration officials about what they knew and when they knew it. The White House says the subsequent portion of the background check process, conducted by the White House personnel security office, was ongoing at the time of Porter's resignation.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attends a meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. "But recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings".

Kelly's memo was aimed partly at ensuring new information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation is quickly delivered into the hands of White House personnel.

Kelly has ordered that from now on he is to receive at least monthly status reports on "all pending White House staff background investigations and adjudications".

This blew a gaping hole in the claim by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that White House officials were unaware of the allegations until they were questioned about them February 6 by the Daily Mail, which also had a photo of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye and swollen cheekbone that she said were just the most-visible damage done by her "verbally, emotionally and physically abusive" ex-husband. He also ended in September the practice of granting new interim security clearances "absent extraordinary circumstances" and his signoff, and directed a review of pending security clearance applications.

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Have a goal of receiving a briefing about any "significant derogatory information about senior staff" within 48 hours of discovering it.

But Kelly's memo also sought to pin much of the blame on processes that predated his tenure as chief of staff and President Donald Trump's inauguration, noting that the Porter saga "focused vast attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations".

But Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell said "it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration" and said the new policy would not affect the president's son-in-law to "continue to do [his] very important work".

In his memo, Kelly noted that others, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have said the security clearance process "is broken" across the government and needs to be overhauled.

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"The events of the last 10 days have focused huge attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations", Kelly announced in a memo on Friday that was first obtained by The Washington Post.

John Kelly overhauls White House security clearances