As a former White House aide myself, there are two incidents that tell me Glenn Beck is right in asking his questions about Van Jones. Two incidents that ask an even more serious question than anything asked about Jones himself.
The question: What did the Obama White House know about Van Jones and when did they know it?
Jones, the Obama White House “green jobs” adviser, is getting in deeper trouble by the minute with revelations of his radical statements about being a Communist, having been twice arrested, and, in the last few hours, with news surfacing that he had signed onto a petition accusing the Bush administration of being responsible for 9/11, making him, in the vernacular, a “Truther” — one of those paranoid nuts who believes George W. Bush ordered the 9/11 attacks. All this is before the amusingly crazy piece of videotape of Jones labeling Obama’s GOP opponents “A-holes.”
Jones, almost by the hour, is being belatedly vetted by the New Media because the Old Media took a pass — and the White House itself had no intention of speaking up until called upon.
You must be asking: is it really this easy to work at the White House? Can you really have done a jail stretch, actually been twice arrested (once during the Rodney King riots and a second time during the 1999 free trade riots in Seattle) and work in the White House? Can you even get into the White House when you have a history with the police?
Let’s take that last question first.
In the way back of the Reagan White House, the word went out as it always does in any White House that there was to be a quick gathering which would require the President to have an immediate, physical audience while he gave a speech in front of cameras. This happens all the time in the White House. Events occur, things happen, someone somewhere in the hierarchy feels the need to get the President in front of cameras ASAP. The staff hops, calls go out to local political friendlies, bodies fill chairs and the President speaks on camera to a room filled with people.
On this particular occasion I received just such a call. Taking out a lengthy list, I picked several names at random, many of whom I did not know, and began dialing for bodies. No one said “no.” Who says no to an invitation to hang out in the White House with the President?
My calls made, invitations accepted, an hour — an hour — before the event, I got a call from the Secret Service. Guest X (no name, sorry) was not acceptable to the Secret Service. I was astonished. Never in four years in the White House had I ever been told such a thing. This must be a mistake, no? No, came the Very Stern answer. Emphatically no. On a confidential basis the reason was explained to me. I winced. Gee, I had no idea. The police? Yikes.
Hanging up the phone, the clock ticking, I realized I had two options. Get the President to personally overrule this — or track the guest down pre-cell phones and disinvite. Not much choice there, so Option Number Two it was. The call went immediately to the guest’s home. The guest was retrieved from getting in a waiting car that about to head to the White House. I was mortified.
To the guest’s everlasting credit, I was off the hook in the gentlest of fashions. The guest knew the record, but of course. In fact, the guest was amazed that any White House invitation would be forthcoming, because the police record was indisputably the record.
To say the least, this was a startling if unexpected reminder of something that I and every other person who had contact with the White House — then and presumably even more so in this post-9/11 — knew.
No one enters the physical White House as a guest unless the Secret Service has vetted them.
But it was also a sharp reminder of the ground rules for everyone who actually has the privilege — and that word is key, here — the privilege to work for a president of the United States.
As I had personally experienced — as every single one of my colleagues had experienced — if you work for the president, you assent to making your life an open book. In my case, and that of my Reagan colleagues of the day, very thick forms had to be filled out that recounted, specifically for security purposes, almost every single aspect of your personal life. As I recall, I had to supply the literal address of every home where I had resided since birth. Really. They wanted everything.
In my case, nerdy political soul that I was, I was ready for this questionnaire somewhere around kindergarten. I passed — along with every one of my colleagues that I can recall — with flying colors.
But the question here in the Van Jones case — as it would have been for me and my Reagan colleagues is very simple. What if I, like the White House guest I had invited, had a police record? Had a seriously questionable set of quite public and quite wacky, well-articulated views captured on video tape? What if I had been a Democrat with a father or older brother in the Ku Klux Klan? What if I had been a John Bircher? What if I had been signing on to documents that accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist? What if I had tagged along with Jane Fonda and gone to North Vietnam to mug for the cameras?
The answer is simple. The only way that I could have gotten a clearance to work for a President Ronald Reagan would be if the President, the First Lady or the Chief of Staff to the President specifically overruled the Secret Service.
That’s it. There was then, and surely is now, no other way.
Which is to say, Van Jones is in the White House this minute because someone — or several someones — knew his problems and quite deliberately overruled the Secret Service. That would be someone of very considerable power.
Here are the questions Glenn Beck and others should be asking, based on my own personal experience:
• Who on the White House staff cleared Van Jones?
• What was that person’s connection to Van Jones or Mr. Jones’s political sponsor?
• Who, exactly, was Mr. Jones’ sponsor for this job? How much money did he/she contribute to the Obama campaign?
• Did the Secret Service notify anyone on the White House staff — or the President or First Lady or Vice President Biden — that Mr. Jones had an arrest record on file with police in two cities?
• Did the Secret Service protest any of this, objecting to Mr. Jones’ clearance?
• If the Secret Service did object, who overruled them? The President? The Chief of Staff? Someone else?
• If the answer to this last question is yes, and the Secret Service was overruled by the President or someone else, why did this happen?
• The White House is a busy place. But there are always answers to questions like these.
If they are asked.
Mr. Beck is asking. Other people are now starting to ask.
It’s about time for some answers.
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