What did the White House know, and when did they know it, about key aide Rob Porter? The Trump administration cut Porter loose quickly after reports of previous domestic violence emerged publicly, claiming that the issue only recently came to their attention. Porter’s two wives, however, claim they informed FBI investigators months ago during their background check for Porter’s security clearance. That has raised questions as to when that investigation was completed, and if and when the FBI informed the White House of those allegations.
Sen. Ron Wyden drilled FBI director Christopher Wray, who confirmed that the FBI completed its investigation into Porter seven months ago. But what specifically did they tell John Kelly about Porter’s inability to get a regular clearance for his work? Wray tiptoes around that question:
FBI Director Christopher Wray offered a new timeline on the background check for former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, saying the investigation ended in July but that new information was then provided to the White House in November and January.
Wray in response to questions from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that investigators submitted a partial report on their investigation of Porter as far back as March 2017.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed, what I can tell you is the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” he said.
“Soon thereafter we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received additional information and we passed that on as well.”
That complicates matters for John Kelly, who has insisted through proxies that he never got informed of the seriousness of the allegations until 24 hours before Porter’s resignation. Both of Porter’s former spouses and a third woman with whom he had been romantically involved insist that they gave explicit details to FBI investigators about domestic abuse and assault, including in one case photographic evidence. One suggestion in defense of Trump’s team has been that if the FBI hadn’t completed its background check on Porter, they wouldn’t have reported any specific allegations until verifying or debunking them.
Wray’s answer throws that out the window. Regardless of whether the allegations and evidentiary support were given to the FBI during the initial phase or during the follow-up inquiry, it would appear that the White House would have had access to a full report on Porter by November. The FBI appears to have balked on approving Porter’s clearance, which should have gotten someone in the White House curious as to why, both for security and political reasons. Unless all the allegations came in the “additional information” this month, of course.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s source says that they knew about it in July:
The FBI notified the White House in July about domestic violence allegations against former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, a person familiar with the matter said.
Porter resigned last week after news reports on abuse allegations from two of his ex-wives.
The allegations were contained in a completed FBI background check report on Porter that was delivered to the White House over the summer, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Of course, this is still an anonymous source, without much description as to reliability other than Bloomberg’s imprimatur. It could be a White House staffer looking to push Kelly out the door, or it might be an FBI or Department of Justice source with an axe to grind against the Trump administration. Wray himself didn’t get this specific in the Senate hearing today, although he certainly had the opportunity to do do.
However, it seems to fit with both the claims of Porter’s former wives and girlfriends, who say they didn’t attempt to hide the issue, and with Wray’s timeline as well. That might also be why the FBI got a request for a follow-up, with the White House hoping to either clear Porter or to at least put some ambiguity as to the claims. Porter would almost certainly have claimed innocence; Trump himself noted that Porter still insisted that he didn’t do it, and Kelly might well have believed him. But the November report should have alerted Kelly and/or others in the White House that the problem wasn’t going to simply disappear, and that the potential for a major embarrassment was at hand — especially with the #MeToo movement in full swing by the autumn.
It certainly seems as though the White House, and Kelly in particular, got too caught up in personal connections to see the political time bomb they left ticking in the West Wing. If so, that’s bad judgment at the very least, especially from a position whose first job is to protect the president from just such scandals.