"Unaccountable" Pentagon Officials Have "Weaponized" Vetting Of Trump Appointees: WSJ

Authored by Sean Bigley, op-ed via The Wall Street Journal,

Unaccountable Pentagon officials block a security clearance for a would-be White House aide.

Nothing ends a Washington career like being branded an unacceptable national-security risk. That’s why officials adjudicating personnel-security cases must act in a mature, objective and nonpartisan fashion. But when it comes to vetting Trump appointees, they often aren’t.

Instead, security clearances are being weaponized against the White House by hostile career bureaucrats, thwarting the president’s agenda by holding up or blocking appointees.

Consider the case of Adam Lovinger. Mr. Lovinger is a highly regarded and politically conservative Defense Department official. In January 2017, the Trump administration made a “by name” request for him to serve as a senior director on the White House National Security Council.

Before departing the Pentagon that January, Mr. Lovinger raised documented concerns with his supervisor about the misuse of contractors. One outfit, run by a woman Chelsea Clinton describes as her “best friend,” was being used to perform foreign-relations activities on behalf of the U.S. Mr. Lovinger, an attorney, perceived the arrangement as violating a federal law delineating inherently governmental functions. He also took issue with millions of dollars in public funds being spent on contractor studies of questionable relevance. One taxpayer-funded study sought to determine whether Americans are a “war-like people.”

Months after Mr. Lovinger raised these issues, the Pentagon suspended his security clearance and his White House detail was canceled without warning. The reason? Specious, and constantly evolving, claims of misconduct. One of Mr. Lovinger’s alleged transgressions was that Pentagon officials had improperly marked an academic report he took aboard an airplane for reading.

The father of three, his family’s primary breadwinner, remains on administrative leave. The same official who suspended Mr. Lovinger’s security clearance is now moving to cut off his pay while the allegations are under review. Amplifying due-process concerns, the panel rendering the final decision reports to the official who suspended him. She refuses to recuse herself or her subordinates despite a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials ignored a longstanding executive order requiring they provide the accused with the government’s evidence within 30 days. This forced Mr. Lovinger to respond blindly to vague allegations, then contend with bureaucrats claiming he did not adequately rebut documents he has never seen. Pentagon officials underscored their contempt for anyone who challenges them by leaking false, defamatory information about Mr. Lovinger.

Mr. Lovinger’s lifeline is that his case, although symptomatic of a political agenda, is fundamentally one of whistle-blower reprisal. That affords him legal tools and remedies—including an inspector general investigation and potential monetary damages—that other Trump appointees, victims of similarly abusive practices, can’t access.

As an attorney who defends security-clearance holders, including Mr. Lovinger, I have had a front-row seat to behavior that only a year ago I would have dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Across the federal government, what was long an apolitical process with clearly defined standards has devolved to the point that wildly unfounded accusations are now being used to smear reputations and settle petty vendettas. And it all occurs in closed-door proceedings not appealable to the courts. Failure to stop these abuses risks undermining the integrity of the entire personnel-security system.

In Mr. Lovinger’s case, those weaponizing the security-clearance process include a senior official who remains on the job despite publicly disparaging President Trump as “unfit” to lead, a Pentagon attorney who instructed colleagues on the importance of concealing retaliatory motives behind their actions, and the Defense Department’s security adjudications chief, who persists in advancing false allegations.

They and other unelected partisans are quietly usurping presidential prerogatives through a litany of seemingly small but slowly compounding abuses of bureaucratic power. Their efforts evidence a philosophy that laws and rules are not static boundaries of societal norms, but flexible tools of the administrative state.

It is imperative that federal-agency heads and inspectors general step in to stop the power grab, lest those targeting Mr. Lovinger and others like him believe themselves immune to accountability. Failure to act decisively will mean not only the continued destruction of lives and careers, but also a precipitous dwindling of the pool of patriots willing to subject themselves to such abuses.

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