A day after Chief of Staff John Kelly joked that his job is a “punishment from God” during a speaking even in Washington, Kelly reiterated to a group of reporters on Friday that he first became aware of the West Wing’s reliance on interim security clearances shortly after accepting the job. He also insisted that former Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned Tuesday evening, contradicting the White House’s timeline, which said Porter left the following morning.
Kelly’s timeline on Porter resignation as of today:
On Feb 6, Kelly got back from the Hill around 6pm. Heard of a second accusation of abuse. Talked to Porter. Porter resigned around 7:30pm that day.
(that evening White House put out statement defending Porter)
— Shannon Pettypiece (@spettypi) March 2, 2018
Though Kelly declined to provide an exact number of staffers who were working with interim clearances, he conceded that the total number was “more people than I was comfortable with.” He told reporters he later approached the FBI with several questions about the process in the hope that it might get resolved.
As the Washington Examiner points out, Kelly’s candor about the number of administration officials who spent months accessing classified information without permanent clearances comes days after more than 30 aides to the president were reportedly downgraded from top secret interim clearances to lower-level “secret” clearances. Among those who lost their high-level clearances was presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Kelly also insisted that his version of events jibes with an explanation offered by FBI Director Christopher Wray during routine Congressional testimony two weeks ago.
While Kelly said he had his “eyes opened” pertaining to the security clearance issues in September, he didn’t explain why he opted to wait until February to issue his memo (aside from the assumption that he was only motivated to handle the problem once it became the focus of public scrutiny).
Kelly also reiterated his claim that former Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned on Tuesday, Feb. 6, shortly after news reports about allegations of domestic violence from two ex-wives, contradicting the White House’s previous account that Porter quit the following day.
Kelly said in a briefing for reporters on Friday that within six weeks of joining the White House last summer “it came to my notice that the kind of things I was used to in DOD in terms of the handling of classified material wasn’t up to the standards I had been used to.”
After surviving his political opponents’ attempts to oust him during the wake of the Porter scandal, Kelly, a former marine general, has been working on yet another purge. yesterday, we highlighted a report that Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis (himself a former general) were scheming to push National Security Adviser HR McMaster out of the West Wing.
Kelly also declined to grant Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner a waiver that would’ve allowed him to view top-secret intelligence briefs, including President Trump’s daily security briefing.
If Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump opt to leave the West Wing, something a Wall Street Journal editorial recently suggested would be the responsible move, Kelly will have pushed out all of his rivals in the West Wing – allowing him to consolidate his power, further cementing his position as the essential staffer in one of the most shambolic White Houses ever.