The Real Scandal and the Distraction of the American People
White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter quit yesterday. The lurid details are well known by now. He allegedly beat his two wives and one of them obtained a protection order. Yes, it is horrid what happened, but that is not the real scandal here. The real issue is that a man with access to the most sensitive material in the United States was working at the White House, without the ability to obtain a top level clearance.
It does not matter what the reason is. The Staff Secretary controls what the President of the United States sees, and handles all kinds of classified material. It is one of the most critical, but least known, jobs in Washington. The fact that the FBI would not give this man a clearance (he could easily have been blackmailed,) and Chief of Staff John Kelly kept him working with a temporary clearance is the real scandal.
The other scandal is that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son in law, is still in the White House working with a temporary clearance. One has to wonder what the FBI found in his past that prevents them from giving him a permanent clearance.
I usually avoid making comparisons to Hillary Clinton, but in this case they are on point. She managed a private server during her tenure as Secretary of State. Her stated reason, and there is some truth to it, are the ancient computer systems in government service. However, her handling of the material was all but stellar, and when originally released, some of the emails contained classified information.
Here we have two individuals, now down to one, who are handling the most sensitive of material. However, something in their past prevents Federal Officials who hand out top secret clearances from issuing permanent documents. The stated reason really does not matter.
Here is the hypocrisy comes in. I am not happy that Porter and Kushner have had access to this material. Just as I was not pleased to read emails on my computer that were later reclassified. Yes, as a reporter I downloaded more than just a few, and found some that had no place in my hard drive.
The hypocrisy from Republicans in particular is glaring. They attacked Secretary Clinton relentlessly for not having control over classified information. At best, losing some control over this material. Yet, they are silent now, when the White House still has one person that cannot obtain a permanent security clearance.
Any person who has ever gone though the process, or known somebody who has, understands it is intrusive as hell. Yes, the FBI will follow any leads and talk to your third grade teacher, and the bully who went after you in first grade. They will look at your financials in full detail and then some. If you have a debt you were not aware off, they will find out. One reason to remove a clearance is precisely that, a large debt (One has to wonder if Kushner’s issues have to do with one particular New York property, that might go bankrupt, and how Kushner will get out of financial trouble? Rumors of the Russian mafia are part of this.)
So the lede for the press should not be that Porter assaulted his now two former wives. However, assault is precisely one reason for the FBI to refuse a clearance. It is the blackmail potential. The Lede is, people who do not qualify for a clearance are working with the most secret and sensitive of materials in the United States.
Then there is the parade. The parade is not about the military. It is about the ego of one man, who admires strong men like Kim Jun Un, and Vladimir Putin. Both have parades every year, to show off their military might. Those parades are full of messaging both internally and externally.
The president was impressed with the parade in France, which has a long history, and it is part of what France is. The United States has had parades in the past. They celebrate military victories. Three relevant examples come to mind. The Grand Review after the end of the Civil War, both parades after the end of the world wars, and finally the 1991 review of troops after the end of the First Gulf War.
This may come as a surprise to most civilians, but soldiers hate parades. They come with endless drilling, buffing of boots and buttons, and close review of uniforms. They are also seen as a waste of time. In the modern day parades have precious little to do with actual war fighting.
But there is something else about the parade. It is a distraction. While we have people endlessly arguing over whether it belongs or not, what are we not talking about?
Let me mention a few things.
The deficit is already growing faster than expected. It happens every time we have a tax cut. However, this is not something people want to talk about. To the credit of a few Congressmen in the Freedom Caucus they have mentioned this in passing. But fiscal hawks are mostly missing in action.
While we might avoid a government shut down, Republicans are pressing on with their efforts to gut the New Deal.
The political class is all but talking about the infrastructure crisis we have in this country. (Incidentally, a few M1-A1 on Pensilvania Avenue will tear it apart, perhaps bringing some attention to the issue. Always look on the bright side of life, I suppose.)
Water in Flint is still a problem.
We are no longer in the top ten innovation economies.
The opioid crisis continues to grow.
Homelessness is at an all time high.
So please, continue talking about the distractions. There are. real scandals. The fact that we have people in the White House a year on still working with temporary clearances, and that we get distracted by essentially non-issues.
My view on the parade, if you most. Since there is a lot more that none is truly paying attention to. I could care less if the President gets to stroke his ego. For all I care, if a parade keeps him happy and away from actually declaring war to save his failed presidency, I will even pay to get him a ridiculous social general uniform, with plenty of medals and all. I am sure he learned how to make his bunk in military school, which is the closest he ever came to actually serving in any military capacity. I am sure we can make up a medal for bunk making.