Fearing breakdown in White House security clearances, Tester calls on FBI for answers

In addition to seeking answers to his request from last March, Sen. Jon Tester also has asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to answer 10 specific questions on the agency’s background investigation process for White House employees. Tester requested those answers by the end of this month. (Missoula Current file photo)

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday asked the FBI to detail how it conducts background checks on White House employees after reports found more than 100 current staffers – including Jared Kushner and Rob Porter – have been serving with little more than an interim security clearance.

Tester joined several other lawmakers a year ago in raising similar concerns after it was revealed that the White House was bypassing “critical components” when granting security clearances. This past week, two high-level White House employees were forced to resign over allegations of domestic abuse.

“Nearly a year after expressing concerns about the security clearance process at the White House, reports indicate that dozens of White House personnel still retain interim security clearances,” Tester wrote FBI Director Christopher Wray. “If the White House Personnel Security Division is adjudicating security clearances based on flawed or incomplete information from the FBI, that is of great concern.”

Tester said personnel are typically put through a rigorous review before a security clearance is granted, including a pre-investigation, an investigation, adjudication and, if necessary, reinvestigation.

The FBI is responsible for providing quality information to the White House Personnel Security Division before a background check is complete and a permanent security clearance is granted, Tester said.

“If the White House personnel are not submitting SF-86 forms for pre-investigation, or if interim clearances are being used by the White House as a way around final adjudication, it represents a significant corruption of the security clearance process and poses a serious national security risk,” Tester said.

Last week, national news sources reported that senior level staffers remain on an interim security clearance, even as other senior advisers were granted full security access. That requires those with a full clearance to be mindful of what information is shared with those operating on an interim basis, according to CNN.

Some, including former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said the current White House’s security clearance policies are not serving the country well.

In addition to seeking answers to his request from last March, Tester also has asked Wray to answer 10 specific questions on the agency’s background investigation process for White House employees. Tester requested those answers by the end of this month.

“The White House depends on the FBI to provide it with timely and high-quality information about its employees so that it can determine whether that employee can be trusted to handle our nation’s most valuable information without fear of blackmail, coercion or extortion,” Tester said.