- FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau alerted the White House to the status of a top aide’s background-check investigation in March, July, November, and January.
- That information could complicate the White House’s timeline of events surrounding Rob Porter, who resigned as staff secretary last week after allegations of domestic violence.
FBI Director Christopher Wray just tossed a wrench into the White House’s narrative about how it handled the Rob Porter scandal.
Wray signalled Tuesday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the FBI alerted the White House to problems with Porter’s background check months ago, while the Trump administration has said it was unaware of domestic-abuse allegations against the White House aide until recently.
Porter, the White House staff secretary with an important behind-the-scenes job, resigned last week after his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, accused him of physical and emotional abuse.
The Daily Mail published two stories last week detailing the accusations. Holderness provided the publication photos of black eyes she says Porter gave her, while Willoughby provided a copy of a protective order she filed against him in 2010. Both women said they were interviewed by the FBI about their marriages after Porter was named staff secretary.
Porter denies the allegations.
The White House first sought to defend Porter from the allegations with statements from John Kelly, the chief of staff, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary.
Last Wednesday, hours after the second Daily Mail story was published, Sanders arranged an off-the-record meeting with four top White House reporters, during which Porter told his version of events and took questions from the group, multiple outlets reported Tuesday.
Later, from the White House briefing room, Sanders repeated the statements defending Porter.
Kelly then issued a second statement hours later, expressing shock at the allegations and saying there is “no place for domestic violence in our society,” though he said he stood by his previous comments about the Porter he had “come to know.”
By the end of the week, Kelly was saying he had moved to oust Porter from the administration within 40 minutes of first hearing about the allegations.
But reports have suggested he learned about the allegations weeks earlier – as did other senior officials, including the White House counsel, Donald McGahn – because they were holding up a background check for Porter’s security clearance. It is unclear, however, whether Kelly or McGahn knew the full extent of the allegations before the Daily Mail published the stories.
Wray said on Tuesday that the FBI submitted a partial report on Porter’s background-check investigation into Porter in March and a completed one in late July. He added that the FBI soon received a request for a follow-up inquiry and provided the White House that information in November.
The case was “administratively closed” in January, he said, adding, “Earlier this month, we received some additional information, and we passed that on as well.”
During an exchange with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Wray said he could not answer questions such as what was in the investigation reports or whether the administration was informed about the allegations, only that he was “quite confident” the FBI “followed the established protocols” for a background-check investigation.
Hours later at Tuesday’s press briefing, Sanders said the FBI paperwork was sent to the White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials, which had not yet finished their process regarding Porter’s security clearance evaluation.
Wray’s timeline does not necessarily mean Kelly was made aware of the allegations and photos in November or January, but it does complicate the timeline he has told staff members and others.
The chief of staff in July was Reince Priebus, who expressed shock at the allegations during a Saturday interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt.
“It was one of those sort of moments where people just said that ‘You’re kidding me,'” he said. “‘It can’t, it can’t – we’re not talking about Rob Porter, are we? The Eagle Scout, Rhodes scholar, Harvard undergrad?'”
The New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted on Tuesday that Priebus had told associates he was unaware of the allegations.
She said that it was “amazing how many people claim not to have known about a completed FBI report” and that Wray’s comments made “the Kelly timeline, already contradictory, harder to fathom.”
Watch Wray’s remarks:
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the FBI completed Rob Porter's background investigation in July and submitted the results of a “follow-up inquiry" to the White House in November and administratively closed the file in January https://t.co/YAjkuUVpnu
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 13, 2018
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