After his surprise win on Tuesday in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump has been busy naming cabinet members for his upcoming administration. One of the most disturbing is Steve Bannon, soon to be elevation to White House chief strategist and senior adviser.
Bannon has been supporting Trump throughout the campaign, easily handing the Republican president-elect the alt-right contingent from his Breitbart media company. Now Trump wants to hand over Top Secret clearance to Bannon in return for favors. The only problem is that Bannon may prove too shady to pass the background check.
According to The Daily Beast, even the most basic security check may prove troublesome to Bannon. The SF86 form requires arrest records, a list of foreign contacts, and a list of associations with groups that advocate violence or discourage access to constitutional rights.
Bannon’s first obstacle may be his arrest record — he was arrested and charged with assaulting his ex-wife and choking her.
Bannon has also been long associated with white supremacists groups (the term recently “softened” to “white nationalists).
In fact, security clearance experts told The Daily Beast that Bannon’s past could rule him out for receiving a security clearance — if it wasn’t for the fact that Bannon is so close to the incoming president-elect. According those experts, there’s no way Bannon would pass if he were just a regular government employee.
Trump could very well intervene and insist that his new chief strategist receive the necessary clearance, but doing so will likely cause friction between Trump and his security advisors, the FBI, and the intelligence community in general by doing so.
Steven Aftergood, one of the directors at the Federation of American Scientists told The Daily Beast.
‘He is, let’s say, a colorful figure that might raise concerns in an ordinary investigation. In another context, there would be no opportunity for [an] override… It would never come to the attention of a senior official if he were just a regular employee.’
Bannon has a long history of questionable activities, including allying himself with European nationalist groups. Bannon told a Daily Beast reporter:
‘I’m a Leninist.’
‘Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’
Bannon’s “platform,” Breitbart, will also prove problematic. Bannon bragged to Mother Jones that Breitbart was a “platform for the alt-right” at the Republican National Convention back in July. Bannon took over Breitbart from founder Andrew Breitbart four years ago, and since then the website has been catering to racists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites.
Other serious issues facing Bannon in pursuit of a security clearance is evidence of voter fraud. Bannon was registered to vote in the state of Florida, a hotly contested swing state, at an address revealed to be a vacant home that he has never owned and where has never lived.
Bannon has also been accused to taking illegal payments. A complaint was filed in October with the Federal Election Commission that Bannon was paid for his time by a pro-Trump super PAC, rather than being paid directly by the campaign, which often struggled for donations. One of the donors, Rebekah Mercer, is now on Trump’s transition team.
Referring to the security clearance process that Steve Bannon is currently facing, Bradley Moss, a lawyer focused on national security issues, said:
‘He’s going to go through a vetting, a picking apart of his life, unlike he’s done in decades. They’re going to learn everything that he’s been doing ever since he took over the Breitbart empire. It’s going to be invasive, it’s going to be personal, and it’s all going to be uncomfortable.’
Bannon will be thoroughly investigated by the FBI, who will recommend based on his judgement, signs of deceitfulness, unreliability, or other factors that would make him a security risk. Bannon will be required to undergo a polygraph test, and his foreign contacts will be investigated, as well as the history of his personal behavior.
John Berry, another lawyer who specialize in security clearances, told The Daily Beast:
‘If the president gets a recommendation that is negative, he’ll have to think long and hard about overruling it, because it’s not something to do lightly. We’ll have to see how far the president is willing to go in terms of granting information to people with security concerns.’
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has ask that Bannon undergo the same investigation that any other government employee would be subjected to for a high-risk position.
‘They should go through the ordinary background checks… and not give him any special treatment. And if they find that any other candidate with his background would be disqualified, then he should be disqualified.
‘Given that the president-elect disregarded what the intelligence community must have been telling him about Russia’s role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee… Were he to move forward with someone that the intelligence community found to be disqualified on the basis of his background checks, that would be another cause for grave concern.’
It is unknown how dedicated Trump is to bestowing favors on Bannon, but insisting on a high-level security clearance for a man that Bloomberg Politics called “the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America” in 2015 may cost Trump some of that “new-president smell”
Bradley Moss told The Daily Beast:
‘He’d be expending a lot of political capital, and considerable political backlash if the FBI moves to deny it. Whether it’s worth it to Donald Trump is ultimately something only he will know.’
It would be a nice change of pace to see the FBI interfere with politics for the better good for a change.
In the CNN video below, Christiane Amanpour, talks with civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, about the threat to national security posed by the possible elevation of Steve Bannon to a high-level cabinet position.