Even if that background check was insufficiently detailed, the fact that the Obama administration approved security clearance still has little bearing on Trump’s decision to make Flynn his national security adviser. As of 2013, 1.4 million people had top-secret clearance. Most of those people will not, and probably should not, ever be national security adviser. To obtain that job, one of the most important White House positions and a key element in the national security apparatus, one would expect that a candidate would be required to undergo extensive vetting—especially from a president who has emphasized national security and promised “extreme vetting” of prospective entrants to the country.
The Trump White House has, however, suggested that it did no additional vetting for Flynn beyond his clearance. During a briefing on April 27, Press Secretary Sean Spicer faulted the Obama administration for clearing Flynn, and suggested that in fact there was no further process. “The process is every government employee who is eligible for a clearance goes through the same process,” he said. “So it’s not—we don't have a unique process.” An incredulous reporter asked, “General Flynn came in and he walked through the door with just the clearance that was conducted by the Obama administration? That doesn't make any sense.”
“Sure it does,” Spicer replied. “Why would you re-run a background check on someone who was the head of the department—the Defense Intelligence Agency—that had and did maintain a high-level security clearance? That's it.”
Flynn is just one of several cases in which the Trump administration’s vetting of nominees and appointees overlooked serious red flags. Multiple nominees have had to withdraw from consideration, most recently Mark Green, a would-be secretary of the Army, on Friday.
The fact that the Trump administration’s public argument is that it did not do any further vetting of Flynn is all the more astonishing in light of the reports about Obama’s warning to Trump, which was first reported by NBC News and then confirmed my multiple outlets. (The anonymously sourced story looks like pushback by Obama alumni against Trump’s tweets.) It’s no surprise that Obama, having fired Flynn, was not a fan. Even by those standards, though, his stark reported warning to Trump is surprising, especially since he gave the president-elect the heads-up within days of the election.
A Trump administration official confirmed the conversation to NBC, but said that Trump disregarded the comment because he believed Obama was joking.
It appears there is some confusion in the White House about when to take the Obama administration seriously, as on the clearance, and when not to do so, as on the warning. But Trump’s attempt to shift blame to his predecessor is clearly hard to take seriously. Even if the Obama administration fell short in its investigation, the Trump team apparently never even bothered to try.