White House Chief of Staff John Kelly signed off Friday on an overhaul of security clearance procedures in the wake of criticism over his response to the Rob Porter affair.
Kelly, who has faced tough questions over how Porter continued to work as a Trump administration aide despite allegations he abused his two previous wives, agreed to changes that put the burden on the FBI and the Justice Department to provide more information and updates on security clearances.
“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,” read a memo Kelly sent to key staffers and Cabinet officials.
Kelly reportedly worked with White House Counsel Donald McGahn to formulate the changes.
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted …”
The memo states that “going forward, all [background investigations] of potential Commissioned Officers should be flagged for the FBI at the outset and then hand-delivered to the White House Counsel personally upon completion. The FBI official who delivers these files should verbally brief the White House Counsel on any information in those files they deem to be significantly derogatory.”
Porter, who served as the White House staff secretary, resigned on Feb. 7 after it emerged he had been accused of beating his wives. Kelly initially defended him, but backed off after pictures of first wife Colbie Holderness with a black eye were made public. Porter’s second wife, Jenny Willoughby, also reported she was abused and that she had told the FBI when it conducted a background check on Porter.
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. He said additional information was turned over to the White House this month, maintaining that proper protocols had been followed.
Wray’s account seemed to conflict with White House claims that the background check was ongoing. The Trump administration later said Porter’s background investigation remained open because the White House Personnel Security Office, which approves clearances, had not completed its work.
Kelly’s memo was aimed partly at ensuring new information from the FBI is quickly delivered into the hands of White House personnel.