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White House security clearance process ‘broken,’ says top Trump intelligence official

Leaders of the American intelligence agencies sounded a series of alarms at a Senate Intelligence hearing on Tuesday about Russian election meddling and breakdowns in the White House security clearance process. The resignation of a top aide over domestic abuse allegations has put problems with security clearances into the spotlight. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Leaders of the United States’ intelligence agencies are sounding a series of warnings. They went before a Senate committee today to talk about everything from Russian election meddling to breakdowns in a critical security process.

  • Dan Coats:

    The process is broken. It needs to be reformed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The process in question was the White House security clearance process. And at a Senate hearing today, the administration’s top intelligence official, Dan Coats, delivered his vote of no confidence.

    There have been questions about the clearance process since White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter left the administration last week amid domestic abuse allegations. The White House previously said Porter had been working with just an interim security clearance, and that his background check was still pending.

  • But before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, FBI Director Christopher Wray put out this timeline:

    that the bureau, which is involved in the clearance process, submitted a partial report on Porter in March of 2017, and a completed report in late July.

    After a request for a follow-up inquiry, the bureau provided that information in November. He added that the FBI closed the file in January and, when it received more information earlier this month, it passed that along as well.

  • Christopher Wray:

    I’m quite confident that, in this particular instance, the FBI followed the established protocols.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In addition, while the bureau is involved in the clearance process, an FBI official said in a statement to the “NewsHour — quote — “The FBI doesn’t grant, deny, or otherwise adjudicate security clearances for individuals.”

    Later today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders weighed in.

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

    The FBI portion was closed. The White House Personnel Security Office, who is the one that makes the recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process and therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today’s hearing also dealt with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

  • Man:

    This is not going to change or stop.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One by one, the six intelligence chiefs who were testifying said that there weren’t any signs Russia’s efforts were subsiding.

  • Dan Coats:

    We have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there was also frustration from Independent Senator Angus King over President Trump’s inaction on the issue.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say the whole thing is a witch-hunt and it’s a hoax because the president told me.

    We cannot this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response, when the leader of government continues to deny that it exists.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The FBI is involved in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s 2016 election meddling and potential ties to the Trump campaign.

    Today, Director Wray rehashed his disagreement, this time on camera, with the so-called Nunes memo. The document, spearheaded by Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, claimed that the bureau and the Justice Department were not fully forthcoming when they asked a court to approve surveillance on a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.

  • Christopher Wray:

    We had then and continue to have now grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum because of omissions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Multiple senators, including Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Martin Heinrich, also gave Wray an opportunity to offer his defense against recent charges of political bias within the bureau.

  • Christopher Wray:

    There’s no shortage of opinions about our agency. The FBI speaks through its work, through its cases, through the victims it protects. And I encourage our folks not to get too hung up on what I consider to be the noise on TV and in social media.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For all of its focus on the FBI today, this Senate panel is also working on its own probe of Russia’s 2016 election meddling. Committee Chairman Richard Burr said today the committee hopes to make some of its findings public in the coming months.

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