‘Several’ White House Staffers Fired or Reassigned Over Clearances

An unspecified number of White House staffers unable to obtain security clearances are out, with several more likely to follow.

The other shoe has dropped:

ABC News (“Several White House staffers terminated or reassigned for security clearance issues: Sources“):

Several White House staffers have been terminated or reassigned for issues related to their security clearances — with at least one individual employed in the Office of the First Lady relieved of duty, sources with direct knowledge tell ABC News.

There is a list of several other individuals with security clearance issues that are under consideration for possible termination or reassignment in the coming days, sources also tell ABC News. These individuals are likely lower level and could include people who work in the complex but not necessarily in the small confines of the West Wing.

The full break down on the list of possible individuals that action could be taken against was not readily available on Wednesday.

This isn’t surprising. Given that President Trump seemingly had no interest in taking personal responsibility for waiving the clearance requirement—which would be his right–his chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, was certainly going to make this move.

Of minor curiosity: it’s not obvious to me why people working for the president’s wife need access to classified material. Certainly, they’d need to pass background investigations for security purposes but clearances are for access to Secret and Top Secret information.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    At least Jared has his burgeoning real estate career to go back to.

    Oh, wait.

  2. CSK says:

    If the WH calligrapher, Patricia Blair, worked out of Melania’s office, it could be her. Apparently she had a TS clearance. I have no idea why she would need one.

  3. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: I believe the President’s Daily Briefing is rendered in a lovely gold leaf calligraphy these days.

  4. Mikey says:

    Of minor curiosity: it’s not obvious to me why people working for the president’s wife need access to classified material. Certainly, they’d need to pass background investigations for security purposes but clearances are for access to Secret and Top Secret information.

    The Office of the First Lady is part of the Executive Office of the President, and depending on how/where FLOTUS chooses to have it, could have unescorted access within the West Wing. That would require a clearance at minimum because there would always be the chance a member of the office could see or hear classified information.

    I would bet there are classified aspects to POTUS/FLOTUS operations and travel plans, as well.

  5. teve tory says:

    Hillary Clinton was clearly asking for trouble. She used a private email account to conduct official government business; she handled sensitive information over unsecured servers; and her system even became compromised during her time in office. No wonder Republicans were so hysterical about her reckless and negligent behavior.

    Wait, did I say Hillary Clinton? I meant Vice President Mike Pence.

    while governor, pence talked about homeland security stuff via AOL email kinda like the dastardly Killary.

  6. Scott says:

    @Mikey: Yeah, a lot of people have clearances just so they don’t have to be escorted as they go about their jobs. Even the cleaning crews.

    As for those who require clearances to do their jobs, if they can’t get the clearance, they should be dismissed.

  7. Kathy says:

    @Scott: Does that mean the janitors have a security clearance and Jared doesn’t?

    Seems about right.

  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    They missed one when they were handing out the Termination slips…

    If Trump was not the president, then there is no way that he could pass the security clearance requirements to work in the White House.

    From USA Today:

    As veterans of the Office of the White House Counsel under presidents of both parties, we have worked with hundreds of officials seeking ethics and security clearances in order to work in the federal government. Fourteen months into this presidency, it is increasingly obvious that there is a man in the White House now who would not be able to get such clearances if he were not the president.

    Every day brings a new reason why President Trump cannot meet the standards expected of every single person who works for him (except for the vice president). Take recent reports about the payment Trump attorney Michael Cohen “facilitated” for porn actress Stormy Daniels to help Trump in the waning days of the 2016 campaign. Despite Cohen’s carefully worded denials that he was not reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign, this week brought the news that he complained to friends that Trump had been slow to reimburse him, and that Trump was supposed to sign the settlement agreement under an assumed name.

    Those revelations would halt any normal security or ethics clearance in its tracks. They suggest that the payment may in fact have been a loan from Trump’s attorney, and that Trump is the real beneficiary of the agreement and an associated LLC. Federal law requires Trump to report his liabilities and assets — yet no Stormy-related information appeared on his signed financial disclosure filings…

    And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally hundreds of other issues. Take Trump’s web of financial dealings that exposes him to influence by foreign governments, sovereign wealth funds and banks controlled by foreign governments. His extensive business activities in foreign countries including Canada, China, the Dominican Republic, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Scotland, St. Martin, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Venezuela have already yielded conflicts or potential conflicts.

    In every case, Trump’s personal financial interests give him an incentive that may conflict with the interests of the American people. And these are just the instances that we know of. The Trump Organization and its hundreds of corporate sub-entities owe hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to persons unknown — another form of leverage that foreign interests could have over the president.

    It’s pretty bad if the President of these United States has lost USA Today.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: @Scott: The last time I worked daily in a secured environment was when I was a contractor at DISA. The cleaning crews certainly didn’t have clearances, so they had to be escorted. Have the rules changed such that people with no Need to Know are getting clearances just out of convenience? No wonder there’s a backlog.

    Yes, I’m sure Melania’s Secret Service detail have clearances. But they’d have had clearances just to get the job; I don’t think of them as part of her staff but as government employees detailed to her.

  10. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: Maybe DISA has enough people just standing around to escort the janitorial staff all day, but where I work we certainly don’t. It would be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars to pull a GS employee off what he/she should be doing to escort them. So, anyone who’s in the building on a regular basis has to get a clearance.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: Interesting. My DISA experience is over a decade old now, so they may have changed the procedure. I just didn’t think we could clear people absent a reasonable presumption that their duties would require them to access classified information, not simply be in the same building. But I suppose it makes sense from an ease of effort standpoint.

  12. KM says:

    @James Joyner :
    How often are they going through people like the janitorial staff that it would impact backlog? Honestly, if your turnover is so high that you can’t vet people in a reasonable amount of time, you shouldn’t be lowering your standards. High turnover in a place that requires security clearances is a problem in and of itself that indicates they shouldn’t be getting clearances till they get their hiring practices in line! Janitorial staff with an escort is a waste of manpower and leads to potentially ugly scenarios: the watcher misses something due to the sheer boredom of watching toilets get scrubbed every night, they’re susceptible to bribery, etc.

    It’s better everyone in an environment like the WH to have basic clearance and it’s not like you can’t find cleaners who won’t easily pass. Trump’s problem is he’s hiring scumbags and questionable souls in unprecedented numbers that they can’t get to the nitty gritty like they should. Back in the day, one of my unofficial jobs was testing security procedures for my uncle who was head of security at a major hospital at the time. I would see where I could get into, what I could access and if anyone even noticed I wasn’t supposed to be there. I ended up in labs with nuclear and biological agents in my hands, waltzed right up to an OR door and bypassed locked doors and computer terminals all because I “looked the part” – stole a lab coat, a badge or some cleaners’ cart and BOOM! People hold open doors for you, ignore you as part of the background and don’t even question if you start messing around on desks or labs that require keyfobs or even biometrics because they recognize you from somewhere. Somebody just wandering the WH with a bottle of Windex can overhear something they shouldn’t incredibly easily and it’s not like this Administration is fastidious with it’s security and hiring. A spy or blackmailed person would be able to gain unprecedented access as simply as, well, Jared.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey: @James Joyner:
    Old-school crime: using cleaning crews to harvest computer passwords. Look under the keyboard, look for Post-its, look for binders or reference books with words hand-written on the title page or last page, you’ll find a password in what, one out of ten cases? And one may be all it takes. Of course if it was me I wouldn’t be wasting my time at the CIA and risking 20 years, I’d be cleaning Wells Fargo or Morgan Stanley or the Cravath firm. Even if they caught you the suits would cover it up rather than admit they’d been played by a peasant.

  14. KM says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Oh I had fun with that one! I’d leave “passwords” in different scripts on post-it notes in really obvious places – Japanese, Cyrillic, Arabic, etc and then have IT monitor to see if someone did a search for that “phrase” (usually something like “monkey farts” or “wow you are dumb”). Then I’d send security to go ask So-n-so why they were so interested in that particular translated phrase. You’d be surprised at how many employees got surprise visits and pleaded “curiosity” at the foreign phrase that just so happened to be on someone’s workstation facing away from public traffic.

    The best part? Like 3 people total ever inquired why strange post-its just showed up with words they couldn’t read on their stuff. If they noticed at all, they just assumed IT was being weird or tagging the monitor for “reasons”. Old school crime still works because people haven’t changed a bit despite new tech 🙂

  15. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not at all surprised. I used to be that office cleaning person and had I had any reason to I could have harvested passwords, bank accounts, credit cards, damaging personal information. . . And I’d never have been suspected because I was just the guy pushing a vacuum.

    I had a debate with my super techie 20 year-old (21 in a month. OMG I’m old.) a while back on Silk Road, the dark web drugs n’ guns market. He figured their op-sec was so good that Dread Pirate Roberts would be safe. My opinion was that some girlfriend or associate would give him up and the feds would nail him to the wall.

    Turned out we were both wrong: Ulbricht was way, way dumber than either of us imagined. Who the hell runs that kind of operation out of the US? What, he didn’t think he’d enjoy the climate in the Cayman’s? Or Nigeria? Or any number of countries where he could have rented the local government for less than he was paying in web hosting fees? When he was busted they got his unlocked laptop secured by distracting him with a fake lover’s quarrel.

    People are lazy, easily-lulled, incurious and just fwcking stupid. Had Dread Pirate picked himself up and gone to, say, Ukraine or Rwanda he could have lived large, banked his profits and retired scot free. Now he’s doing life without.

  16. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: I was a contractor at No Such Agency in the early 2000s and even then most of the building custodial and maintenance staff were cleared. They have access to pretty much every part of the building, so it made sense, not just from a “what if they inadvertently saw something” standpoint but also from “we need to ensure they’re trustworthy.”

    Not to say there weren’t instances where escort was necessary–the janitors didn’t have SCI, so they’d be escorted in some areas. But they could go pretty much anywhere else without escort.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    If the WH calligrapher, Patricia Blair, worked out of Melania’s office, it could be her. Apparently she had a TS clearance. I have no idea why she would need one.

    I guess you haven’t been read into INSULAR UNCIAL then…

    Wait. Forget I said that.