The White House security clearance process is under scrutiny amid conflicting accounts from the FBI and the White House about who knew of the allegations of domestic abuse against former White House personnel secretary Rob Porter, and the Experts say the role of White House lawyer Don McGahn.
After FBI Director Chris Wray informed the parliamentary commission in July that the agency reported the allegations to the White House, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that an office of personnel in charge of the security authorizations of the White House.
"This is a process that does not operate within the White House, it is run by our intelligence and law enforcement community," Sanders said, although the personnel office does operate under the auspices of the White House.
Legal experts and former officials said that under the typical process, McGahn would have been alerted at the start of the process about problems with Porter, sparking a scandal that put White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on defense.
"This would have been sent to McGahn's desk as soon as the personnel office found out about it," said a former administration official who was hired to hire Obama's White House staff.
In addition, experts said, it would normally be McGahn's responsibility to alert the president and chief of staff that Porter was not fit to receive classified information.
"The decision about someone who has justified the allegations of domestic abuse is not difficult in the context of the security settlement," said Mary Kuntz, a lawyer who defends clients with negative results in background investigations.
Typically, an applicant for a White House job that requires a security clearance follows this process:
- The FBI reviews your financial records, foreign contacts and criminal history and makes a preliminary decision on whether or not they can receive an interim authorization.
- Then, after a more thorough review that includes interviews with previous contacts, the FBI compiles a report of its findings. If a claim is substantiated against the applicant, enter a report that the FBI gives to the White House staff office.
- That office adjudicates the findings and determines whether the person should receive the security clearance.  If there are problems with the applicant, the personnel office alerts the White House attorney's office, who in turn will contact the White House chief of staff.
The president may annul any decision made by the personnel office, granting authorization to any applicant, regardless of the findings.
It is not clear if President Donald Trump decided to annul the decision on Porter. It is also unclear whether the Trump administration is including McGahn in the process as much as White House advisers have been involved in the past.
"Generally the lawyer's office is very involved, but it is not clear how much the current White House attorney's office is involved," said Brad Moss, a lawyer who specializes in litigation issues related to national security and federal employment.
Moss said it is rare that the review of a person requesting a position as high as Porter's takes so long.
"Many of us have been skeptical about why this would happen with the White House staff, which is supposed to be given a high priority for the obvious reason that the president is needed appropriately," Moss said. .