WASHINGTON ― The White House’s attempts to explain why it allowed a top aide accused of domestic violence by both of his ex-wives to keep his job took another hit on Tuesday, this time from FBI Director Christopher Wray.
President Donald Trump’s other top aides have been claiming that they did not know about the domestic violence allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter until recently and that they did not appreciate the full extent of the accusations until photographs of one woman’s injuries were published by news outlets.
But Wray, who was named to that job by Trump, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the FBI had given the White House a preliminary report on Porter nearly a year ago.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July.”
Wray added that the FBI “soon thereafter” received a request for a follow-up from the White House, which it completed and returned in November.
The FBI closed its investigation in January, but then received “additional information” in early February, which it passed along as well, Wray said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, said those reports never made it to key officials like Chief of Staff John Kelly and Counsel Donald McGahn. Responding to Wray’s remarks later on Tuesday, she said it was the White House’s personnel security office that received the information from the FBI, requested the follow-up information and, even after Wray said the bureau had closed the investigation, was still trying to reach a final determination on Porter.
“The White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials, received information last year in what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November,” Sanders said, reading from a prepared statement. “But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Porter resigned. In the view of [the] personnel security office, the FBI’s July report required significant additional investigatory fieldwork before [the] personnel security office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication.”
Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer who handles security clearance issues, said it was possible the security office would not have finished its work after nearly a year, although not likely. “It is not typical for that office to drag things out so long, but it isn’t impossible that there were unrelated delays,” he said.
The White House’s handling of the situation, meanwhile, drew bipartisan criticism from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after their hearing.
“The White House story over the last few days clearly doesn’t add up. The FBI director has now made clear that that’s the case,” said Wyden, who had asked Wray the original question.
“I just feel like they really made some errors in their own communication and what they’re really trying to say,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who added that he wished Trump himself had spoken out on the issue early.
“Clearly this is somebody that’s right next to him all the time,” Lankford said. “He can say, ‘This has been a good employee, but we don’t stand for domestic violence and don’t allow that. We wish him well, but he can’t be here and represent the country and also be a participant in this because this isn’t consistent with our values as a country.’”
After the first news report of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter was published by the London-based Daily Mail on Feb. 6, the White House offered statements fully supporting Porter, who functioned as Kelly’s top assistant.
It was the next day, after The Intercept published photos showing one of Porter’s former wives with a heavily bruised eye, that Sanders said Porter was resigning of his own volition but would stay on through a transition period.
And it was later on the night of Feb. 7 that Kelly released a statement saying that he was “shocked” by the latest reports and that Porter had been told to leave.
Wray’s testimony on Tuesday corroborates reporting by HuffPost that Kelly, who took over the chief of staff job in early August 2017, learned of the charges against Porter in November but kept him on anyway because he valued Porter’s help in bringing order to what had been a chaotic White House.
Trump himself has not spoken at all about the two women accusing Porter, but last week said that he feels bad for Porter, wishes him well and hopes he will have a good career. Then over the weekend, the president tweeted his concern that too many lives were being destroyed by a “mere allegation.”
“Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” he wrote.
HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic contributed to this report.