by Emily Berman, assistant professor, University of Houston Law Center
Each day, it seems, another personnel-related headline emerges from the West Wing of the White House. As a result, the events of just a few days past often feel like ancient history. But rather than succumb to the 24-hour news cycle, it behooves us to pause and consider more closely White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly’s recent intervention regarding security clearances for White House staff and the circumstances that precipitated it.
In addition to making reforms to the clearance process, the memo terminated interim high-level clearances for anyone whose application had been pending since June 2017. While it is not unusual for senior White House staff to have interim clearance at the outset of an administration, hundreds of staffers in November and dozens as late as February still were cleared only on an interim basis. This list included the President’s Senior Advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner—despite which fact he enjoyed regular access to America’s most sensitive secrets, including the President’s daily intelligence briefing. (Recognizing that Kushner is likely ineligible for a permanent clearance—Kelly ultimately downgraded his interim clearance level.) Given that the clearance process usually takes about 8-10 weeks, providing access to the PDB to staff whose clearance applications are pending after 13 months in office is both unusual and alarming.