The list of staffers without full and long-term security clearances isn’t just long — it’s full of top aides, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Other top officials, such as White House counsel Don McGahn and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had long-term clearance for one intelligence level (top secret) but only interim clearances for what’s called SCI, or sensitive compartmented information, which includes the president’s daily intelligence briefing. Kushner and Trump, for example, have interim clearance for both top secret and SCI clearance.
According to CNN, at least two dozen of the staffers operating with interim clearances in November had joined the Trump administration on day one.
And 10 of 24 staffers on the National Security Council only had interim clearances as of November 2017, NBC found, including the special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the NSC’s senior director for international cybersecurity.
It is possible that some of the dozens and dozens of people included in documents obtained by NBC News and CNN have by now received full, long-term security clearance. It also isn’t clear what caused the delays in issuing these full clearances — whether it’s problems with background checks, or administrative backlog, or, more likely, some combination of the two. The White House did not comment.
These reports come as the White House continues to grapple with the fallout from the Rob Porter abuse allegations. The White House staff secretary stepped down last week after his two ex-wives alleged domestic abuse.
Porter did not have a permanent security clearance, and the FBI knew of the allegations against him after interviewing his ex-wives for a background check. The bureau says it alerted the White House, and it remains unclear how Porter was allowed served in such a high-level role with these red flags and without such clearance. The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the matter.
The lack of security clearance for some of the people listed in the latest reports, including Kushner, has been widely reported. As the New York Times pointed out, Kushner omitted details about his foreign contacts on his national security questionnaire. That, along with his real estate developer background, may have caused the delay.
Other backlogs are less clear. But the Washington Post reported last week that the White House has been reluctant to intervene on the behalf of other staffers because of Kushner’s very public security clearance troubles.
Still, the CNN and NBC News reports raise a lot of questions. First, why is it taking so long for high-level members of Trump’s team to secure these clearances after nearly a year in office? And second, what are the consequences of letting people review the most sensitive of intelligence with only a temporary status?
Vox’s Sean Illing interviewed Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security, who said it’s hard to judge how anomalous the security clearance situation is in the Trump administration because delays and problems do happen. But it’s exactly not reassuring.
“It’s not all that unusual to see interim secret or top-secret clearances granted for over a year,” Zaid told Illing, “but it is unusual to see SCI interim clearances for that long, because these are people who have access to the highest levels of classified information, including the president’s daily security brief.”