10182018What's Hot:

Kelly knew before abuse reports that Porter would be denied security clearance

White House chief of staff John Kelly was told several weeks ago that the FBI would deny full security clearances to multiple White House aides who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances.

Those aides, according to a senior administration official, included former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after reports that he physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.

Story Continued Below

The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week.

Kelly’s inaction has produced what may be the deepest crisis of his seven months on the job, unleashing a cascade of questions about whether Trump – who was accused by multiple women during the 2016 campaign of sexual impropriety – and his closest advisers take violence against women seriously at a time when the #MeToo movement has called other politicians, media moguls and entertainment icons to account.

The revelations about Porter included photographs of his first wife with a black eye she said he gave her on a trip to Italy. Kelly initially defended Porter, who has been romantically involved with White House communications director Hope Hicks, before expressing shock over the allegations on Thursday.

Those close to Kelly say they’re puzzled about why the former Marine general, whose singular focus since joining the West Wing in July has been to eliminate irregularities and chaos, failed to follow through on his determination to push out aides denied a permanent clearance.

“He knew it was a problem having people who would never be granted permanent clearances and he was preparing to deal with it. And this blew up in his face,” said a senior administration official familiar with Kelly’s plans.

Interim security clearances are granted by the federal government on a temporary basis while the FBI conducts a broad investigation as a part of the regular clearance process. That process includes interviews with an applicants’ friends, colleagues, and spouses, as well as with the applicant himself.

National security experts say that the clearance process, particularly for those joining the government for the first time and who have extensive business backgrounds or foreign ties can take about a year — but that interim clearances like the one Porter was working under are never supposed to substitute for the real thing.

“The concept of interim clearances was created for somebody in a position of importance to be able to come on board and start working right away while the investigation ran its course,” said Bradley Moss, an attorney who specializes in security clearance law. “I’ve never heard of somebody just being allowed to sit on an interim clearance indefinitely. It runs contrary to the entire concept of the clearance process.”

That’s why Kelly concluded that White House aides whose backgrounds precluded them from receiving full clearances would have to go, according to the senior administration official.

White House concedes it 'could have done better' on Porter allegations

However, Moss added, the president himself holds the ultimate authority over the clearance process, which he can alter by executive order – though it would be unprecedented. “If he wants individuals like Jared Kushner and Rob Porter to just sit with interim clearances for three years, he can do that,” Moss said.

Kelly went on the record with the Daily Mail on Tuesday night defending Porter, praising him a “man of true integrity and honor.”

That Kelly would issue a full-throated defense of Porter — or any defense at all — was not a foregone conclusion, and was a matter of heated debate inside the White House on Tuesday afternoon, according to two administration officials.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Kelly had been aware for several weeks that Porter would never receive a full security clearance due to a protective order that had been filed against him by an ex-wife in 2010. It’s unclear whether he was aware of what both of Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, say they told FBI agents during the course of their interviews for his clearance about the abuse they suffered at his hands.

Kelly and other West Wing aides weighed what they knew about the protective order with the Porter they had come to know in the White House: a hyper-competent overachiever with a resume that had brought him into the president’s good graces.

The initial Daily Mail report was worse than the White House had anticipated, containing photographs of the 2010 protective order filed against Porter but also a lengthy, on-the-record interview with one of his ex-wives as well as on-the-record confirmation from the other that he had abused her during their marriage.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday morning, when The Intercept first published a photograph of Porter’s first wife with a black eye, that Kelly and the White House communications team knew it would have to walk back its statement, the two White House officials said.

John Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen are pictured. | AP Photo

That meant pulling its support from a trusted aide who had won not just Kelly’s trust, but that of the president, and who socialized frequently with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump—and then began dating Hicks, a Trump aide who is treated almost like family.

As staff secretary, Porter handled every piece of paper that went to and from the president. Last month, he paired up with policy adviser and longtime aide Stephen Miller to develop Trump’s State of the Union speech.

Trump jokingly told economic adviser Gary Cohn several months ago that while he initially thought Porter was “just some guy who handed me papers,” he had since realized that Porter was “the smartest guy in the White House.”

Porter, Trump told Cohn, had not one but two degrees from Harvard — one from the undergraduate college and one from the law school — and he was a Rhodes Scholar. “Even Gorsuch wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar,” Trump said, referring to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who spent two years at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship.

“Maybe he’ll be my next Supreme Court pick,” Trump said.

Andrew Restuccia contributed to this report.

This article tagged under:

Missing out on the latest scoops? Sign up for POLITICO Playbook and get the latest news, every morning — in your inbox.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic