Anti-Trump bu­reau­crats snag clear­ance process

Lawyer finds hos­til­ity that backs up Kelly

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

The se­cu­rity clear­ance process has tied the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in knots — and that is ex­actly what the bu­reau­crats run­ning the White House per­son­nel se­cu­rity of­fice in­tended, said a lawyer who has been bat­tling the of­fice.

The prob­lem is a small group of ca­reer bu­reau­crats holed up in the Old Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice Build­ing who turned se­cu­rity re­views into quick­sand to en­snare Pres­i­dent Trump’s team, said Sean M. Bigley, a fed­eral se­cu­rity clear­ance lawyer who rep­re­sents sev­eral se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials caught up in the process.

“The se­cu­rity clear­ance process is be­ing weaponized by anti-Trump bu­reau­crats who are us­ing it as a tool to not only thwart the pres­i­dent’s agenda but to pre­vent him from in­stalling ap­pointees who will ex­e­cute it,” Mr. Bigley told The Washington Times.

His ac­count of ob­struc­tion and stalling tac­tics bol­sters White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s crit­i­cism of the se­cu­rity of­fice and fur­ther il­lu­mi­nates re­cent in­ci­dents in­volv­ing se­cu­rity clear­ances that have em­bar­rassed Mr. Trump, in­clud­ing a down­grade of top-se­cret clear­ance for se­nior ad­viser and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner.

The foot-drag­ging in the se­cu­rity clear­ance process is preva­lent through­out the ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing at the De­fense De­part­ment, but the prob­lem is most vis­i­ble and star­tling at the White House, said Mr. Bigley.

The com­pleted FBI back­ground checks rou­tinely get snagged by the of­fice, also known as EOP Se­cu­rity, that is manned by fewer than a dozen ca­reer of­fi­cials. The of­fice has a rep­u­ta­tion for bu­reau­cratic in­ef­fi­ciency stretch­ing back sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tions, but it now has adopted an ad­ver­sar­ial stance to­ward Mr. Trump.

“There re­ally is a hos­til­ity and there seems to be al­most an in­sti­tu­tional ar­ro­gance in lack of will­ing­ness to en­gage,” said Mr. Bigley. “I lit­er­ally can­not get a phone call re­turned, and I am rep­re­sent­ing se­nior peo­ple in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who are just ask­ing for ba­sic an­swers as to why EOP Se­cu­rity is still sit­ting on their back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tion a year af­ter it has been com­pleted.”

Se­cu­rity clear­ance prob­lems grabbed head­lines in early Fe­bru­ary when Rob Porter was forced to re­sign as White House staff sec­re­tary af­ter his two ex-wives went public with ac­cu­sa­tions of spousal abuse.

Mr. Kelly and other White House of­fi­cials ini­tially de­fended Mr. Porter’s char­ac­ter. But public out­rage, fu­eled in part by a pho­to­graph of ex-wife Col­bie Hold­er­ness with a black eye, quickly forced the White House to oust Mr. Porter.

Mr. Kelly ac­knowl­edged that the White House mis­han­dled the episode.

But he said he wasn’t told of “red flags” on Mr. Porter’s se­cu­rity clear­ance un­til the Daily Mail re­ported the story on Feb. 6.

The nearly year­long de­lay oc­curred in the per­son­nel se­cu­rity of­fice.

Mr. Porter was one of as many as 40 of­fi­cials at the White House work­ing with in­terim se­cu­rity clear­ance af­ter more than a year be­cause the process was mired.

De­ci­sions on se­cu­rity clear­ance usu­ally take about six months.

When the FBI back­ground check re­veals neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about a White House of­fi­cial, the per­son­nel se­cu­rity of­fice usu­ally would in­form the chief of staff and White House coun­sel about the “suit­abil­ity” con­cern.

A White House aide with a “suit­abil­ity” prob­lem would usu­ally re­sign.

The FBI de­liv­ered the back­ground check to the per­son­nel se­cu­rity of­fice in March 2017.

Se­cu­rity clear­ance pro­fes­sion­als have ques­tioned why the in­for­ma­tion was not trans­mit­ted to Mr. Kelly or White House coun­sel Don­ald McGahn.

“The ques­tion mark is whether that was com­mu­ni­cated to any­body else in the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Mr. Bigley. “Based on my ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with EOP Se­cu­rity, I think they prob­a­bly did just sit on this and drop the ball.”

Mr. Kelly tar­geted the com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­down in a memo out­lin­ing an over­haul of the se­cu­rity clear­ance process in the wake of the Porter de­ba­cle. He or­dered the FBI to hand-de­liver back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tion files to the White House coun­sel, by­pass­ing the per­son­nel se­cu­rity of­fice.

“The FBI of­fi­cial who de­liv­ers th­ese

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