Ryan: Breakdown in Government Employee Vetting System 'Needs to Be Addressed'

By Susan Jones | February 14, 2018 | 11:38 AM EST

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks to reporters on Feb. 14, 2018. (Photo: Speaker.gov)

(Corrects name of Rob Porter, former White House employee)

(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has informed House Speaker Paul Ryan that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will investigate the circumstances surrounding the White House hiring and firing of Rob Porter, a high-ranking employee accused of domestic abuse by his two former wives.

"He did inform us, and that is his job as the Government Oversight Reform chairman," Ryan told a news conference on Wednesday.  "They (White House) clearly have work to do to fix their vetting system. I don't know exactly how they'll do that, but I'll leave that to them."


Asked if the White House should publicly condemn domestic violence, Ryan didn't hesitate:

"Absolutely," Ryan said. "I mean, come on, clearly we should all be condemning domestic violence, and if a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there's a breakdown in the system -- there's a breakdown in the vetting system -- and that breakdown needs to be addressed."

Earlier on Wednesday, Rep. Gowdy told CNN that he's troubled about Porter being hired by the White House in any capacity for two reasons:

"One's the interim security clearance issue, but even more importantly, I spent two decades believing women and children who alleged abuse, even sometimes when no one else did," said Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor. "I have real questions about how someone can be considered for employment whether there's a security clearance or not. So, yeah, I'm troubled by almost every aspect of this."

FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that the FBI "followed established protocols” in conducting Porter's security clearance, which was never finalized. Nevertheless, Porter served as staff secretary to President Donald Trump, a position where he would have had access to classified information.

Wray said the FBI gave the Trump administration a "partial report" on Porter in March, then a "completed background investigation" in late July. Wray said the White House asked for a "follow-up inquiry," and the FBI provided that additional information in November. "We administratively closed the file in January," Wray told the committee. He said the FBI "received some additional information" earlier this month and "passed that along as well."

But in recent days, two different White House spokespeople have told reporters that the FBI background check process "was ongoing" and "hadn't been completed" when the allegations against Porter were first reported by The Daily Mail eight days ago.

Given the FBI's version of events, how could Porter still have a job at the White House? CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked Gowdy:

"That's a great question. And one that I can't answer. I didn't hire him, but who knew what when and to what extent? Those are the questions that I think ought to be asked. And Congress has a role to play but quite frankly, so does the public and so does the media. Who knew what when, and to what extent, and if you knew it in 2017 and the Bureau briefed them three times, then how in the hell was still he employed? The security clearance is a separate issue. I mean, it's an important issue, but separate. How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?" Gowdy asked.

Gowdy said he wants to hear first from the FBI -- what the Bureau learned about Porter and what and when it communicated that information to the White House. Then he wants to hear from witnesses including White House Counsel Don McGahn and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has come under fire for issuing statements in support of Porter. The White House also said Kelly was not "fully" aware of the allegations against Porter until the story hit the news headlines.

"The chronology is not favorable for the White House," Gowdy said.

Gowdy said his committee launched an investigation "last night," and he indicated it will include questions about the broken security clearance process.

Trump’s own son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly is among dozens of administration employees who still lack final security clearance.

"Any time you have a backlog, you have two issues -- are there too many applicants or are there too few resources to process the applicants?” Gowdy said.

“I had a two-star general that had to go through the security clearance background when he left the Army and joined a committee of Congress. I'm not sure how somebody with 30 years of government experience needs eight months more of investigation. One of the best people I've ever met in my life, she's never broken curfew, it took her a year to get a security clearance. That's too long when you're hiring people for really fact-centric jobs. A year is too long to wait.

“So maybe you've got too many applicants, you certainly have too few resources. Any time you've got a backlog, you have to look at those two factors.”

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