White House admits it knew of red flags in aide's record
By BY Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear
Feb. 13, 2018 at 10:59 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The White House changed its story on Tuesday about how it handled allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace last week, as members of President Donald Trump's team conceded that as long ago as last summer the FBI had told White House career officials — but not, the Trump team said, top advisers in the West Wing — about problems in Porter's background check.
The White House revised its version of events after testimony on Capitol Hill from FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted earlier and shifting claims from the West Wing.
At a previously scheduled Senate hearing Tuesday about threats against the United States, Wray, in response to a question about Porter, said the FBI had given the White House final results in January of its background investigation into the former staff secretary. Wray's account was directly at odds with previous assertions by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, and other White House officials who said Porter's background check still was underway when the domestic violence abuse allegations from his two former wives came to light last week in news reports.
Wray's words strongly suggested that Porter had been allowed to continue serving in his influential post in the West Wing long after officials had received word of the troublesome accusations. Wray's testimony also raised questions about the credibility of Trump's most senior advisers and the degree of tolerance they might have shown to a colleague apparently eager to cover up a past.
According to Wray, the FBI updated the White House three times in 2017 — in March, July and November — about Porter's background check as it progressed. Wray did not disclose the information that was given to the White House at those times, but according to two people briefed on the matter, the FBI first provided the White House in July with a rundown of the spousal abuse allegations the bureau had uncovered against Porter.
In November, the FBI provided the White House with additional information about the allegations.
Sanders insisted Tuesday that senior West Wing officials had not learned about the allegations against Porter until they surfaced in The Daily Mail because the FBI gave the information to the White House Personnel Security Office, which handles security clearances. The office is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House and is overseen by Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff.
Sanders said that the security office — which she repeatedly noted was staffed by "career officials," who would not have been appointed by Trump — had not yet made a final determination on whether Porter should receive his security clearance at the time of The Mail's article.
Still, pressed on whether senior officials — including John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel; and Hagin — could have been unaware as far back as last summer that such a significant issue had been raised about one of the president's closest aides, she conceded she could not be certain.
"Not that I'm aware of," Sanders said. "I can't say with 100 percent certainty."