White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stalled her press briefing on Tuesday by bringing out Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to tout President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal.
But what was supposed to be “Infrastructure Week” had already been preemptively derailed after the White House began the week, as it often does, with a self-inflicted crisis that continues to expand.
Staff secretary Rob Porter resigned from the White House last Wednesday, one day after The Daily Mail and The Intercept reported that he allegedly behaved violently with both of his ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby.
Day after day, administration officials have extended the saga by putting forth conflicting narratives and providing no clarity on key questions, from why Porter was allowed a temporary security clearance to when top officials, especially chief of staff John Kelly, learned about Porter’s alleged abuse.
Tuesday was no different, with Sanders repeating stale talking points and qualifying her responses with varying ways of claiming that she did not know.
The train wreck of a press briefing came after FBI Director Chris Wray contradicted a major part of the White House’s story at a Tuesday morning Senate hearing. The FBI, conducting a background check on Porter, informed White House officials last March about Porter’s alleged domestic violence and completed its initial investigation last July, Wray said.
Yet White House officials have asserted that they found out only through the reporting last Tuesday and that Porter’s background check had been ongoing.
“Wray’s FBI timeline makes one thing clear: the Kelly coverup is unraveling right before our eyes,” a White House source told Axios.
Kelly’s role in the saga immediately raised questions. The chief of staff, who some claimed would bring order and discipline to the perpetually teetering Trump White House, defended Porter’s character, even after the allegations were reported last Tuesday.
But, curiously, he released a different statement Wednesday night, after multiple news outlets reported that Kelly may have known about Porter’s alleged abuse much earlier.
Since then, White House officials have continued to revise their explanations regarding Kelly’s handling of the situation. For instance, Kelly claimed that he acted “within 40 minutes” to dismiss Porter from his post after he learned about the allegations. Sanders said that Porter was gone from the White House “within 24 hours.”
But the White House accelerated Porter’s departure as its explanations started to fall apart.
Sanders initially had said last week that Porter would “stay on to ensure that there’s a smooth transition moving forward.” She said his departure was “a personal decision that Rob made, and one that he was not pressured to do, but one that he made on his own.”
In place of definitive answers, Sanders has found new excuses and sources of blame. On Monday, when asked whether it was ill-advised for Porter to have had an interim security clearance to handle sensitive information, she instead accused reporters of endangering national security by publishing stories using leaked information.
On Tuesday, among other talking points and deflections, she suggested that a delay in personnel processing by White House “career officials” was to blame in explaining why the White House and FBI explanations were so different.
But she insisted that “we relay the best and most accurate information we have” and that “I’ve done the best I can.”
Yet Sanders on Tuesday claimed that Trump and the White House have “condemned domestic violence in every way possible.”