Admitting You Smoked Pot Can Get You Bounced From White House Job

It's all a matter of the suddenly important "security clearance."


The status of White House security clearances regarding such luminaries as former presidential assistant Rob Porter and even presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner (who on his merely temporary clearance requests more intelligence information than any staffer not on the National Security Council) has earned that coveted social networking age description "bonkers" from Slate.

The publication notes that among the 130 Trump staffers not yet receiving full security clearance is White House counsel Don McGahn, himself responsible for adjudicating others' clearances and managing government secrets.

smokershighlife on / CC BY-NC-SA

A quieter White House security clearance story broke last week, revealing a ludicrous stance officially taken by the federal government: if you, like a bare majority of 52 percent of adult Americans, admit to having smoked pot, you can be deemed unqualified to work in the White House.

George David Banks, who had been special assistant to the president on international energy and environment under Trump and had previously been an adviser in the George W. Bush White House's Council on Environmental Quality and worked on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, explained in an interview with E&E News that:

I had a permanent clearance for 14 years, CIA, State, Bush White House.

And once you leave government, you don't have a clearance. It's not as if you can just walk into a building and say, "Hey, I still have my clearance." So anyway, I didn't have a clearance when I started this job…..

It was like an hour interview with the FBI. They're looking over your paperwork; you're going through all your responses. Then that's it. Didn't hear anything. Certainly didn't hear there was a potential problem with my clearances.

I didn't know until Tuesday. I get a call at 4:30 p.m. from White House counsel saying they want to meet with me at 6 p.m. Three people in the room. They just say, "Look, your job requires a permanent TS-whatever, and we're not going to grant you a clearance." And I'm like, "Why?"

I'm on the edge of my seat. I'm like, "Holy shit!" He looks at me and goes, "Your drug use." I was like, "Really? That's it?" He goes, "Yes." I said, "Well, I'm not a drug user. I've only experimented with it a few times." He goes, "We know. Those are just the rules. It was too recent."…

If it had been something, like, had I lied, right, and in their investigation they found, "Oh, he smokes pot," or if it were a revelation that they just discovered, like, two weeks or two months ago. … But I self-reported this a year ago.

I just don't know why it took a year.

The New York Times reports that Banks' self-reported pot use was between 2010 and 2013. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is, after Porter was pushed out by accusations of domestic abuse, attempting damage control regarding temporary security clearances for which, Times sources say, Banks was collatoral damage.

We know that the announced public reason for any government decision isn't necessarily true or complete. Perhaps other considerations really caused Banks to lose his job. (Pot use is something that can disqualify you but doesn't always.) But that the government can even offer such an excuse—that he's disqualified for having smoked pot in the past—as true is ludicrous, and should be rethought immediately.