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WASHINGTON — 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must be expedited, and, if unfavorable information is developed at any time, the interim security clearance may be withdrawn.”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.