Amid national scrutiny over the hiring of the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who was accused of abusing his former wives, the White House is responding by fixing its process to clear officials who work with sensitive national security information.
Kelly has been under fire from some in the West Wing for his handling of the Porter case, and Trump confidants say the president has been sounding out his friends on possible replacements.
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"You also testified yesterday that the FBI completed a background investigation into White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter in late July, yet he remained in his position until last week", the senators wrote.
Porter, who served as the White House staff secretary, resigned on February 7 after it emerged he had been accused of beating his wives. "We should - and in the future, must - do better".
The White House has struggled to explain its handling of the Porter matter, offering several versions of events in recent days.
Kelly's memo states he is creating a "working group" to "study the clearance process generally" and take action to "streamline, harmonize, and modernize standards" across the executive branch. "The FBI official who delivers these files should verbally brief the White House Counsel on any information in those files they deem to be significantly derogatory". Kelly, meanwhile, said he first learned something was wrong with Porter's clearance in November. It's unclear if all of the aides have obtained clearance since then. "We discussed what actions likely led to the recent situation, how the processes were working up until this week, and the shortcomings within these processes", wrote Kelly who also met with senior Federal Bureau of Investigation leadership.
According to a memo to other high-ranking officials, background investigations are to be hand-delivered to the White House's legal team.
But people who worked on both sides of such investigations in past administrations said in interviews this week that the White House's portrayal of the role played by the security office is inconsistent with how it previously operated. "Kelly revealed, "...we need to do better across the board...in the past, credible and substantiated reports of past domestic abuse - even physical abuse - were not considered automatic disqualification for suitability for employment or a security clearance".
The White House has been reeling for more than a week amid shifting explanations of how Mr.
Kelly has ordered that from now on he is to receive at least monthly status reports on "all pending White House staff background investigations and adjudications". Kelly said his office, the chief of staff's office, must also approve of all new security clearance requests.