FBI director contradicts White House timeline on Rob Porter abuse probe, says agency finished background check last summer

Key Points
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray tells the Senate Intelligence Committee the bureau completed its background investigation of Trump staff secretary Rob Porter in July.
  • That timeline conflicts with the White House claim that Porter's background check was still ongoing when he resigned earlier this month.
  • Porter has been accused by his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, of physically and verbally abusing them during their marriages.
White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter arrives with U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. February 5, 2018. Picture taken February 5, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House claim that a security background investigation of Rob Porter was still ongoing when the presidential staff secretary quit last week amid domestic abuse allegations.

Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee the FBI had issued a partial report on President Donald Trump's staff secretary last March and completed its background check on Porter in late July.

Wray's statements contrast with deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah's claims last week that Porter's "background investigation was ongoing, his clearance was never denied, and he resigned."

Shah also said the White House was not "fully aware" of claims Porter had abused his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, until last week.

The White House has said Porter was operating under a temporary security clearance as a result of that delay in completing that background check.

Later Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that there was no conflict between what Wray said and the Trump administration's version of events.

Reading a prepared statement, Sanders told reporters that although the White House Personnel Office received the FBI's final report in November, the office had not finished its own investigation by the time Porter resigned.

"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.

"But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Porter resigned," Sanders said.

"In the view of the personnel security office, the FBI's July report required significant additional investigatory field work before the personnel security office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication."

Sanders said her understanding, based on the "best information" available to her, was that chief of staff John Kelly was unaware of the FBI's repeated contact with the White House about the status of its background check of Porter.

But this explanation contradicts Sanders' statement the previous day that the security clearance process "doesn't operate within the White House."

"It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we support that process," Sanders said on Monday.

Various reports say that senior Trump staff had known about the Porter allegations for months. Porter, 40, began working at the White House in mid-January 2017. He was even being considered for a promotion, possibly to a deputy chief of staff role, just before he resigned, CNN and Axios reported Tuesday.

The White House, particularly Kelly, has come under fire for its handling of the Porter scandal. Kelly himself offered an account last week that contradicted earlier White House timelines of Porter's resignation.

Porter's resignation came on the heels of news reports that he had physically and verbally abused Holderness and Willoughby during their marriages to him.

Both wives said they had told the FBI about that abuse during interviews conducted as part of Porter's background check.

That, in turn, raised the question of why the White House was allowing him to continue to handle sensitive documents as part of his daily duties, much less continue to be employed at the White House.

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"I can't get into the content of what was briefed," Wray told the committee, referring to the findings in the Porter background check.

"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, that soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry," Wray testified, "and we did the follow up, and provided that information in November, and then we administratively closed the file in January, and earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well."

Trump offered Porter well wishes and stressed that Porter has claimed to be innocent. "I think you have to remember that," Trump said Friday. "He said very strongly yesterday he's innocent."

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