FBI’s Wray contradicts White House on Porter
Director says checks completed last year
WASHINGTON — Contradicting the White House, the FBI said Tuesday it gave the Trump administration information on multiple occasions last year about a top aide accused of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives, and the investigation wrapped up in January.
That account by FBI Director Christopher Wray challenged the White House assertion that Rob Porter’s background “investigation was ongoing” and officials first learned the extent of accusations against him only last week, just before he abruptly resigned.
Mr. Wray’s testimony marked the latest development in a scandal that has called into question the judgment of senior members of the White House staff, put new stress on the administration’s already strained credibility with the public and drawn accusations of tone-deaf handling of abuse allegations.
The weeklong fallout from the allegations against Mr. Porter, President Donald Trump’s staff secretary, has thrown the West Wing into chaos not seen since the earliest months of the administration and has sparked new rounds of recriminations inside the White House.
it provided that information in November. Mr. Porter was interviewed about the allegations in September, an official said.
“And then we administratively closed the file in January, and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well,” Mr. Wray added in his congressional testimony Tuesday, without elaboration.
The FBI does not make recommendations about whether to grant or deny a security clearance, officials said, leaving the determination up to the employee’s agency, in Mr. Porter’s case, the White House.
Ms. Sanders maintained Tuesday that her statement about an ongoing investigation was accurate because Mr. Porter’s clearance hadn’t received a final signoff from the White House Office of Personnel Security.
“We find those statements to be consistent with one another,” she said.
The White House has refused to divulge the number of staff members who still do not have full clearances, although the list includes Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law. Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that “there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level” who are working without full security clearances.
Separately, Mr. Trump’s intelligence chief called for top-to-bottom reform of the security clearance process, which allowed Mr. Porter to operate in his job for more than a year with only an interim clearance.
“We have a broken system and I think everybody’s come to agree with that now,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told The Associated Press. He called for limits on the information made accessible to those with temporary clearances — a practice that is currently not followed in the West Wing, an official said.
Meanwhile, Colbie Holderness, Mr. Porter’s first wife, pushed back against comments made by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway that seemed to suggest strong women can’t be victims of domestic violence.
Ms. Conway, in a weekend interview on CNN, said she had no reason to disbelieve accounts by Ms. Holderness and another exwife that Mr. Porter had abused them. But when asked if she was concerned for top White House aide Hope Hicks, who reportedly was dating Mr. Porter, Ms. Conway said no because “I’ve rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts.”
Ms. Conway went on to say that “there’s no question” that domestic violence “knows no demographic or geographic bounds,” and she understands there is a stigma that surrounds these issues.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Ms. Holderness wrote that Ms. Conway’s first statement “implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong. I beg to differ.”
Mr. Porter resigned after Ms. Holderness and his second ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, came forward with allegations of emotional and physical abuse. Mr. Porter has denied harming his former partners.
The White House approach has drawn criticism even from Mr. Trump’s own party.
“I think you can’t justify it,” Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told CNN about a report that the White House arranged for Mr. Porter to defend himself privately to reporters after the allegations surfaced. “You can’t justify that.”