Leon Panetta on "unusual" security clearance issues in Trump White House

Leon Panetta on W.H. security clearances
Leon Panetta on W.H. security clearances 05:49

Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and CIA director during the Obama administration, says in the fallout over White House staff secretary Rob Porter's resignation, the issue of proper security clearances lacking for many West Wing aides is a "real problem" that is creating "risks" for the Trump White House.

"It's unusual this far into a new administration — it's over a year this administration has been in office, and normally because of the priority of getting security clearances to those that have to be involved with top secret and highly classified information, it usually is a priority that's focused on," Panetta told "CBS This Morning" on Thursday when discussing the issue of interim security clearances. 

He added, "The fact there are still a number of individuals that don't have full security clearance is a real problem and hopefully it will be dealt with, but it creates a risk because individuals are going to see highly classified information coming across their desk. It creates a risk they could see that."

W.H. sends mixed messages on domestic abuse 03:07

Porter was still working under an interim security clearance while the FBI conducted a lengthy background investigation and reported its findings to the White House. He resigned last week after allegations of domestic abuse came to light.

Much of the attention has focused on Chief of Staff John Kelly as the top person who would have been aware that Porter faced allegations of abusing his two former wives

"Somebody's dropping the ball, that's for sure," Panetta said. "These investigations should've been completed and John Kelly is a marine general, he understands the importance of getting these clearances done. I can't believe that more pressure has not been brought on those involved to complete this and try to get everyone cleared so they can get on with the business of the country."

Kelly has been at the center of the response to the Porter controversy, which the White House concedes has been mishandled. CBS News learned that Kelly told the president he would be willing to submit his resignation if the president thought was a good idea in response to the bungling of Porter's departure. A senior White House official says that at least for now, resignation is unlikely.

Panetta, who was also held the job of chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, says, "I think if you're looking for where to place blame, I think everybody bears some responsibility."

Panetta suggested that Kelly has to be careful about "what he says and how he says it," adding that the "most important thing is chief of staff should not become the headline."

He said that while Kelly is "not a politician" he should learn to "stay in the background and recognize where the landmines are in terms of public policy and press policy."  

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"