The White House on Thursday said the Obama administration was responsible for issuing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a security clearance in 2016, amid news of a Pentagon inspector general investigation into a trip he took to Russia in 2015.
“His clearance was last reissued by the Obama administration in 2016 with full knowledge of his activities that occurred in 2015,” Spicer said.
News broke on Thursday that the Defense Intelligence Agency’s inspector general is investigating into whether Flynn was improperly paid by Russia Today, a government entity, for a speech he gave in Russia in 2015 before he joined the administration.
“So the issue is, you know, he was issued a security clearance under the Obama administration in the spring of 2016. The trip and — and transactions that you’re referring to occurred in December of 2015, from what I understand,” Spicer said.
“Obviously, there’s an issue that — that, as you point out, the Department of Defense inspector general’s looking into. We welcome that,” he said.
Reporters at Thursday’s White House press briefing repeatedly questioned Spicer whether the White House was satisfied with its vetting of Flynn before he became the national security adviser.
Spicer said Flynn — a retired three-star Army general who had led the Defense Intelligence Agency — “was a career military officer who maintained a high-level security clearance throughout his career in the military” and that his clearance had been reissued by the Obama administration in 2016 after Flynn’s trip to Russia.
Spicer said that someone with a top security clearance only has to fill out a form known as the SF-86 every five years.
“In between that period, you’re responsible for updating the information that you’ve provided in accordance with the agency that issued that,” he said.
“When General Flynn came into the White House, he had an active security clearance that was issued during the Obama administration with all of the information that’s being discussed that occurred in 2015,” he said.
The press secretary compared the situation to reporters not having to get their backgrounds rechecked for clearance to the White House when a new administration comes in:
When you applied to come here to this briefing room as a member of the press, you applied; you filled out certain forms with the Secret Service to have your background run. When I came in here on January 20th, the people that had been cleared the day before were cleared on the 20th, the 21st and et cetera. We didn’t re-run your background. We trust that when you were cleared the first time, whether if you were cleared on, you know, December 15th or January 20th, that you were still — that your background check still cleared.
Every individual who came into this White House either applied for a security clearance or had one. Everyone in the government goes through the same SF-86 process — every single person. And so why would you re-run a background check on someone who is the head of the Department of Defense Intelligence Agency that had and did maintain a high-level security clearance?
That’s it. It doesn’t — there’s no difference between administrations when you come in from one, they re-run it. You — they — the reason they grant them for five years is that it’s a very extensive background where they check your contacts, your places of residence, your employment. They go out in the field. They do a lot of that work. And then you are required to maintain updates to that clearance. They readjudicate it every five years.
That occurred in this case. And now the Department of Defense inspector general is looking into it.
As to whether President Trump made the right decision to fire Flynn in February, after it came to light he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia when he told Vice President Mike Pence he hadn’t, Spicer said it was the right call.
“I think the president made the right call at the right time, and it’s clearly paid off,” he said.
The House Oversight Committee is looking into whether Flynn misled the government about his speaking engagements and payments from foreign governments before he became national security advisor.
Spicer said he referred the committee to the Defense Department for documents related to Flynn’s security clearance, since they were the issuing agency.
Spicer said requests for copies of his speaking engagements were referred to a speakers’ bureau, and they did have information on foreign contacts before his time at the White House.
“I think we have complied with every document that they’ve looked for,” Spicer said.