The FBI director just threw a huge wrench into the White House’s story about Rob Porter
- FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency alerted the White House of a top aide’s background check issues in March, July, November, and January.
- That information could complicate the timeline of events being promoted by the White House.
FBI Director Christopher Wray just tossed a wrench into the White House’s narrative about how it handled the Rob Porter scandal.
Wray said Tuesday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the FBI alerted the White House to problems with Porter’s background check months ago, complicating the Trump administration’s narrative that it was unaware of allegations against the White House aide until recently.
Porter, a White House staff secretary with an important behind-the-scenes job, resigned last week after abuse allegations from two ex-wives surfaced. Porter’s ex-wives alleged that he physically and mentally abused them in their marriages. Both ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, provided the Daily Mail with photographic evidence of the alleged abuse, which Porter denies.
The White House, meanwhile, first sought to defend Porter from the allegations when first made aware of the soon-to-be-published Daily Mail story. White House chief of staff John Kelly and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released statements strongly defending Porter.
But just hours after the 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.
Sanders repeated the statements defending Porter from the White House briefing room on Wednesday, which followed both the Daily Mail story’s publication and reports that Porter resigned from the administration.
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,” but saying he still stood by his previous comments of the Porter he had “come to know.”
By the end of the week, Kelly was saying that he moved to oust Porter from the administration within 40 minutes of first hearing about the credible allegations, though it was reported that he learned weeks earlier of the claims against Porter, as did other senior officials, including White House counsel Donald McGahn, because the allegations were holding up a background check process related to Porter’s security clearance. It still is not clear, however, if Kelly knew the full extent of the allegations prior to the Daily Mail story being published.
Wray noted Tuesday that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation into Porter in March, completing its background check in late July. Wray said the FBI soon received a request for a follow-up inquiry and provided the White House with that information in November. The case was “administratively closed” in January, he added, noting that “earlier this month, we received some additional information, and we passed that along as well.”
Wray, during an exchange with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he could not answer questions such as who in the administration was informed of the allegations, only noting that he was “quite confident” the FBI “followed the established protocols” for a background check investigation.
Wray’s timeline does not necessarily mean that Kelly was personally made aware of the allegations and photos in either November or January, but it does complicate the timeline that he has promoted to staff and others.
In July, when the investigation was first completed, former chief of staff Reince Priebus was still at the helm.
Priebus 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?'”
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted following Wray’s comments that Priebus has told associates he was unaware of the allegations.
She said it’s “amazing how many people claim not to have known about a completed FBI report.”
Additionally, Wray’s comments make “the Kelly timeline, already contradictory, harder to fathom,” she said.
Watch Wray’s remarks: