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FBI contradicts White House on former aide Porter

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. Wray said the agency provided the White House with information twice last year about Rob Porter, the top Trump aide who resigned as staff secretary last week after domestic violence allegations from two ex-wives became public. Wray said the bureau closed its background investigation on Porter in January, weeks before the allegations were published. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2017 file photo, from left, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump was en route to Bedminster, N.J., for vacation. White House staff secretary Porter has resigned following allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, right, stands with White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway during a meeting in the Oval Office Friday, in Washington. ap photo

  • President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency provided the White House with information twice last year about the top Trump aide who resigned as staff secretary last week after domestic violence allegations from two ex-wives became public. Wray said the bureau closed its background investigation on Rob Porter in January, weeks before the allegations were published. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray, left, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, second from left, arrive for a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, in Washington. ap photo

  • From left, FBI Director Christopher Wray, accompanied by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers, and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo, speaks at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik



Associated Press
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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.

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 week-long fallout from the allegations against 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.

Privately, officials acknowledge that the public timeline offered last week — that the administration first learned of the ex-wives’ charges against Porter last Tuesday — was flawed at best.

Several senior officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, were aware of the broad allegations against Porter for months, officials said.

Kelly found out after requesting an update on the large number of senior staffers operating without full security clearances, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. McGahn told Kelly last fall there was concern about information in the background investigation involving Porter’s ex-wives, the official said, and Kelly expressed surprise that Porter had previously been married.

Despite that, Porter took on an increasingly central role in the West Wing and was under consideration to serve as Trump’s deputy chief of staff, two officials said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday, “The White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check.” Yet Wray testified that the FBI sent the White House its preliminary report in March 2017 and its completed investigation in late July. Soon after that, the agency received a request for a follow-up inquiry, and it provided that information in November. 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,” 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 Porter’s case, the White House.

Sanders maintained Tuesday that her statement about an ongoing investigation was accurate because Porter’s clearance hadn’t gotten a final sign-off 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, though the list includes Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law. 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.