White House officials are asked if they are vulnerable to blackmail

WASHINGTON — Top White House officials seeking security clearances are asked to disclose whether anything in their backgrounds — or those of family members — could pose a conflict of interest, be a source of embarrassment or be used to blackmail them, according to an excerpt of a questionnaire obtained by NBC News.

In the wake of Wednesday's report by NBC News that more than 130 White House officials lacked full security clearances as of November, the supplemental questions — which are not part of the standard questionnaire filled out by other government officials — shed light on the sort of information that could raise flags in a background investigation.

Legal experts say that the allegations of domestic violence against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter would have almost certainly qualified as a source of embarrassment and possible blackmail, and therefore would have posed an impediment to him being granted a full clearance.

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 2: White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter watches as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, Feb. 02, 2018. President Donald Trump talked to reporters and members of the media about the release of a secret memo on the F.B.I.'s role in the Russia inquiry. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly walks with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to depart with U.S. President Donald Trump aboard the Marine One helicopter from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 29, 2017. Picture taken November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (C) says hello to reporters as he and White House advisors Sebastian Gorka (from L), Omarosa Manigault and Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci accompany President Trump for an event celebrating veterans at AMVETS Post 44 in Struthers, Ohio, U.S., July 25, 2017. Jonathan Ernst: "The most visible person in any White House is naturally the President, followed by the press secretary. But there are also the staff who support them, any one of whom might suddenly jump into public view and be national news for a day or two. For those of us covering the President Trump administration, there seem to be more compelling figures in the West Wing than ever before. It's crucial to know who's who and why they're important. When I raised my camera and back-pedalled ahead of the group to take this image Lewandowski gave me a hello and pointed right into the lens. I liked the photo, but had no idea it would go a little bit viral, especially since Scaramucci, who was the biggest mover and shaker that week, was hidden back in the pack. But I guess the image catches a glimpse of what it's like to be a West Wing staffer on the road."REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File photo SEARCH "POY STORY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2017 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 01: Rob Porter, right, White House staff secretary, and Don McGahn, White House counsel, attend a luncheon featuring a speech by President Donald Trump at the House and Senate Republican retreat at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on February 1, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Stephen Miller, White House senior advisor for policy, right, talks to Rob Porter, White House staff secretary, after arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. In a speech to congressional Republicans at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia today, Trump recognized the party's leadership and then riffed on his election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: White House chief of staff John Kelly, (L), walks with staff secretary Rob Porter, (C), and White House senior advisor Stephen Miller, before boarding Marine One to depart from the White House with President Donald Trump, on February 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) and Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller (C) return to the White House after a day trip with President Donald Trump to Cincinnati, Ohio, February 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. While in Ohio President Trump delivered remarks after touring cylinder manufacturer Sheffer Corporation while the first lady Melania Trump visited patients and their families at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Gary Cohn, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, right, Stephen Miller, White House senior advisor for policy, left, and Rob Porter, White House staff secretary, walk toward the White House after arriving on Marine One with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Trump today threw a wrench into negotiations over a shutdown-avoiding spending bill by saying he didn't want a provision funding children's health insurance in the short-term measure. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly walks with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to depart with U.S. President Donald Trump aboard the Marine One helicopter from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 29, 2017. Picture taken November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) arrives aboard Air Force One with fellow senior staff and U.S. President Donald Trump for a summer vacation at his Bedminster estate, at Morristown Airport in Morristown, New Jersey, U.S. August 4, 2017. Picture taken August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn (R) talks with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) as they arrive with U.S. President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One at Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S. September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Porter operated for more than a year on an interim clearance, even as he was managing the flow of highly classified documents in the White House. He resigned after media reports quoted two ex-wives saying he abused them. The reports included photos of one with a black eye.

The basic questionnaire most people must fill out when seeking a security clearance is Standard Form 86. That form asks whether "there currently a domestic violence protective order or restraining order issued against you." Porter had been subject to a temporary protective order in 2010.

The standard form does not, however, ask about potential blackmail.

But in the Trump White House, certain officials have been required to answer supplemental questions, according to an excerpt of a supplemental form they have filled out. It includes this question:

"With as much detail as possible, please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, which could suggest a conflict of interest, be a possible source of embarrassment, or be used to coerce or blackmail you."

The applicants also are asked: "Are you aware of any reason not discussed above that may call into question your suitability to serve in public office?"

Officials in previous administrations were also required to answer supplemental questions.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president's daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.

Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office were working with some form of interim security clearance.

It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.

One reason that may explain the large number of interim clearances in the Trump White House is that there are a higher than typical number of White House employees who have never been vetted for a security clearance, and many of them have complicated financial backgrounds, said Leslie McAdoo Gordon, a lawyer who specializes in security clearance matters.

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WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 4: A member of the United States secret Service stands guard as Marine One carrying President Donald Trump takes off from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Dec. 04, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Members of the Secret Service wait for US President Donald Trump to walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Secret Service stand on the North Lawn after US first lady Melania Trump received a Christmas tree during an event at the White House November 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: Members of the U.S. Secret Service stand on the roof of the West Wing prior to the arrival of Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras to the White House, October 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. A left-wing socialist, Tsipras was critical of Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. But with tension high between the U.S. and Turkey, Trump and Tsipras are looking for renewed ties as they discuss defense, economic issues, energy security and cultural ties, according to the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A member of the Secret Service's uniformed division patrols Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House on October 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Marine One, carrying U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, departs the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Trump plans to visit the U.S. Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Maryland. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 2: (AFP OUT) Members of secret service counter-assault teams get ready for U.S. President Donald Trump departure from the White House September 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The President and first lady are traveling to Texas to visit individuals impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 2: (AFP OUT) Secret service agents get in position prior to U.S. President Donald Trump departure on Marine One from the White House September 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The President and first lady are traveling to Texas to visit individuals impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: U.S. Secret Service Police officers stand guard in the rain outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington Friday July 28, 2017. (Photo by J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A member of the Secret Service patrols in front of the White House, illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer awareness month, in Washington, DC on October 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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White House officials who are listed as not having permanent security clearances as recently as this past November include Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser; Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser; Dan Scavino, the president's director of social media; and Christopher Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, according to the documents.

All four are listed as operating with interim clearances for information classified as "top secret" and "TS/SCI," which is shorthand for "top secret, sensitive compartmented information." They are not listed as being cleared for classifications higher than that.

Kushner is a subject of criminal investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Anyone enmeshed in a federal criminal investigation might experience a delay in obtaining — if not a denial of — a full clearance, according to Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents federal employees in matters of clearances and classified information. Kushner is still operating with an interim clearance, his lawyer has said.

Nonetheless, the Washington Post and other news organizations have reported that Kushner gets access to the President's Daily Brief, which contains some of the most sensitive secrets in the government, including information about CIA covert operations and National Security Agency eavesdropping.

Kushner has "stepped away" from his family real estate empire, but he retains interest in a network of foreign investments that critics say could pose a financial conflict of interest. Kushner's lawyers have said he is free from conflict. 

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