White House clearance procedure tightened

Jennifer Willoughby Rob Porter's ex-wife poses for a portrat in Alexandria VA on February 7

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, under pressure to act, strengthened the process for security clearances for President Donald Trump's aides on Friday in response to a scandal involving a former official accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.

The Trump transition team gave incoming White House staff a few days, or in some cases hours, before inauguration to fill out and submit the complicated form necessary for them to get security clearance - a chaotic process that was different from previous administrations, according to half a dozen campaign officials who went on to work in the White House.

For any future approved interim clearances, only grant a temporary clearance for 180 days, with an option to extend that 90 days, absent any "derogatory information".

Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, personnel director Johnny DeStefano, communications director Hope Hicks and policy adviser Stephen Miller are among those who had received received full top-level clearances, CNN reported.

Although the FBI completed its background investigation last summer, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers this week they did a follow-up in November and closed the file in January.

Staff secretary Rob Porter resigned earlier this month amid accusations he abused his two former wives.

'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.

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"The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted-especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information", Kelly wrote in the memo.

The paper reported Saturday that Kushner requests more classified documents than nearly anyone on Trump's staff.

The questionnaire, which is technically 127 pages (although some pages don't apply and others might go unused), is used for "background investigations, reinvestigations, and continuous evaluations of persons under consideration for, or retention of, national security positions", according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Kelly had been aware of the allegations since past year, yet Porter was allowed to remain on staff with interim access to classified material at the highest level while his background check was adjudicated.

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. It also seeks to reduce the "tie lag" between discovery of derogatory information to disclosure to the White House.

"Now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests".

"In the past", Kelly wrote, "credible and substantiated reports of past domestic abuse - even physical abuse - were not considered automatic disqualifiers for suitability for employment or a security clearance".

Effective one week from today, discontinue any Top Secret or SCI-level interim clearances for individuals whose investigations or adjudications have been pending since June 1, 2017 or before. Facing a credibility crisis of his own, Kelly sought to rewrite his actions, telling staff he had acted more swiftly than widely believed to obtain Porter's resignation.

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