This is not the first Weiner problem that Washington has had and poor behavior is not something one political party has an edge over the other. In fact, in the balance sheet of our nation’s 112 Congresses and 44 Presidential Administrations, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that people of suspect judgment and poor character of both political parties can and do get elected and prove their suspect judgment and poor character in unique and colorful ways.
Despite all of those transgressions, the Republic has survived, and it will survive long after all of the salacious details of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s escapades come out. But in watching all of this unravel, I could not help but think of the security clearance process that I and many others have gone through.
As anyone knows who has gone through it, when you are in the process of getting some type of sensitive government position, you have to open up your life to an investigator(s) to be picked over and investigated in ways that can be embarrassing, at times uncomfortable and in some cases, humiliating. If you’ve ever had any type of severe money or substance abuse problems, irresponsible or unethical behavior, or had any criminal infractions or anything like that, it’s pretty much a safe bet that the clearance you are pursuing is not going to happen. As such, people who have wanted to be intelligence or law enforcement officers or senior officials in some type of government agency doing highly-sensitive work have seen their career aspirations instantly evaporate.
It may have only been a onetime occurrence or momentary lapse in judgment in that person’s life that disqualifies them from their pursuits, but those are the operating rules with the clearance world. There are other people who are a “safer bet” than those who have a more colorful past. Investigators are more comfortable recommending them for clearances than those who have a more colorful streak to explain about their life.
Truth be told, if Bill Clinton had been any person other than the President of the United States, there is no way he could have ever received a full-fledged security clearance. Given that he was elected President, he kinda got one any way. It comes with the Commander in Chief title. The same could be said about JFK, FDR and a few Oval Office holders too.
Security clearances don’t mean that those who have them are perfect either. People like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen and others have had them and look what they did. The damage they brought to the country’s national security establishment is still being fixed to this day.
While I think it is safe to say that any fantasies that Rep. Weiner may have ever had about being in the occupant of the Oval Office – or more likely Gracie Mansion in NYC – have evaporated faster than his original photographic explanations, it does raise the issue of the position that he put himself in to be blackmailed and to be put in even more compromising situations than the ones he decided to photograph and share with the select group of individuals he chose.
It is one thing to cavalierly jeopardize your own name and family and personal relationships, but it is entirely another to put other aspects of your responsibilities at risk too. While Weiner was not in any overtly crucial national security role that had him handling HUGE intelligence and security centric details, he was still a Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Given their oversight authorities on some relatively sensitive issues, it is still something to be taken seriously. His access to that sensitive information doesn’t even include his leadership roles with the House Democrats and anything they may have been privy to in Executive Branch briefings. If Weiner were not an elected Member of Congress, I can assure you he would have had his position terminated immediately and been physically tossed to the curb.
As one of this nation’s elected officials, he’s been given one of the ultimate “hall passes” where his behavior does not necessarily restrict his access to some fairly important information. Isn’t this one of life’s ultimate ironies? A man who is obviously overly risky with his own private lifestyle would be granted a potentially unlimited proxy to national security centric and sensitive details. If he were anyone else and an investigator got his file to begin the rudimentary background check, he might otherwise be told, “You need not apply.”
It’s not just Weiner who is an example of this imbalance of questionable behavior and security responsibilities. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), former Reps. Mark Souder and Mark Foley, and even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are all prime examples of this condition.
While we do not elect any elected officials to be saints on display, there is a disproportionate metric that seems to be on more of a sliding (and eroding) scale when it comes to personal behavior and professional responsibilities to constituents and the country. Until Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have the courage to address that condition, there will always be big wieners in Congress.