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White House Tries To Clarify Contradictions With FBI Over Staffer Abuse Scandal


FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the background investigation of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter during a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday, offering a different timeline than the White House has given.

FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the background investigation of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter during a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday, offering a different timeline than the White House has given.

AFP/Getty Images, SAUL LOEB

FBI director Christopher Wray offered a conflicting account Tuesday from the White House explanation of the status of the background check investigation of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter when he resigned last week amid domestic abuse allegations.

Wray said Tuesday that the check was completed last July, nearly seven months before Porter was forced to resign over allegations of domestic violence from two of his ex-wives, and that the bureau closed the file on Porter in January. The White House has said in the wake of Porter’s ouster that the investigation was “not complete.”

The FBI director testified about the timeline before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning. His account renews questions about why the Trump administration allowed Porter to remain in a sensitive job for so long, once information about the allegations against him was available, and how forthcoming the administration has been regarding what it knew about Porter.

Wray declined to say what the FBI uncovered in its background check. But Porter’s ex-wives have said they told investigators of the alleged abuse early in 2017. One of the women, Colbie Holderness, also produced a photograph showing her with a black eye.

Porter has denied the allegations.

The FBI moved fairly quickly to share what it learned with the White House.

“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,” Wray said in response to questions from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The White House was undergoing a staff shakeup around that time. President Trump announced via Twitter on July 28 that John Kelly would replace Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff.

Wray said soon after filing its completed background check on Porter, the FBI was asked for additional information.

“We received a request for followup inquiry. And we did the followup and provided that information in November,” Wray told the Senate committee. He said the FBI had closed its case file on Porter in January, although the bureau received additional information in early February, which it passed along to the White House.

That’s at odds with the account from deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah, who insisted last Thursday that Porter’s background check was incomplete at the time of his departure.

“His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah said. “We should not short-circuit an investigation just because allegations are made, unless they could compromise national security or interfere with operations at the White House. The truth must be determined. And that was what was going on with Rob Porter.”

White House officials continued to defend Porter as late as last week, even after his ex-wives’ accusations were made public by the Daily Mail and the Intercept.

Kelly initially issued a statement calling Porter a man of “true integrity,” although he later said he was “shocked” by the allegations, adding “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.”

On Monday, press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the White House had acted swiftly once the allegations against Porter were known.

“We learned the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening and within 24 hours, his resignation had been accepted and announced,” Sanders said. Sanders also said that the background check “process” was ongoing, as opposed to specifically saying the “investigation.”

In his Senate testimony, Wray noted that while the FBI conducts background check investigations, it does not determine who gets a security clearance. That is a process that plays out at the White House. Wray did not say who at the White House was privy to the FBI’s findings.

Porter never received a permanent security clearance and was operating on an interim clearance until his departure.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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