Wray testified Tuesday that the FBI repeatedly briefed the White House on its investigation into the aide last year, despite how the White House has presented their timeline.
The FBI submitted information to the White House on its background investigation into the former White House staff secretary that uncovered allegations of domestic abuse four times before those allegations became public, Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. The FBI director’s testimony raises fresh questions about why Porter remained in a senior position after the White House learned of the allegations of domestic abuse leveled by two of Porter’s ex-wives to the FBI — extending a controversy the White House has struggled to shake.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed to 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. That soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and that we administratively closed the file in January,” Wray said in response to questions from Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Wray added that the FBI “received some additional information” earlier this month and “passed that along as well.”
Wray’s timeline contradicts the White House’s accounting of when it learned of the allegations against Porter and the status of the FBI’s background check investigation to determine whether Porter could be granted a permanent security clearance.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed on Monday that the background investigation into Porter was still ongoing when the allegations became public and he later resigned.
“We let the process play out. It was ongoing. It hadn’t been completed,” Sanders said.
Sanders claimed Tuesday that the White House personnel security office had received the information from the FBI, but that it was conducting additional investigatory work before adjudicating Porter’s security clearance.
“The White House personnel security office staffed by career officials received information last year and what they considered to be the final investigative background investigation report in November, but they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned,” Sanders said.
But even that statement contradicted claims made days earlier by White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, who on Sunday claimed that FBI officials”have not completed that investigation,” and deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who said last Thursday the FBI’s investigation into Porter was “ongoing.”
“His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah said. “In this instance, in the case of Rob Porter, we relied on the background check investigative process. That process hadn’t been completed, so we were relying on the information that we had.”
As recently as Monday, Sanders also claimed that the White House did not learn “of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter” until last Tuesday, when the allegations became public.
“We’ve learned of this situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening,” Sanders said.
While Wray declined to say what information was provided to the White House, each of the FBI’s updates to the White House came after agents first interviewed at least one of Porter’s ex-wives in January 2017, when she claimed Porter had physically abused her.
Sanders continued to sidestep a series of questions probing for more specifics about when West Wing officials became aware of the allegations leveled against Porter.
Despite reports to the contrary, Sanders maintained that White House chief of staff John Kelly had only learned of the allegations last week, but noted that was her “understanding” at the moment. She also said she could not definitively say whether the office had shared the findings with any West Wing officials.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Wyden’s position on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Published at Tue, 13 Feb 2018 17:07:24 +0000
His anticipated elevation further highlights how top White House officials were willing to overlook indications from the FBI that there were potential abuse allegations in his background in exchange for professional competence in a tumultuous West Wing.
Porter had been actively lobbying to take on new policy portfolios outside the traditional scope of the staff secretary, one person familiar with the matter said, which included speechwriting duties and a role in planning policy rollouts. Neither of those tasks is traditionally carried out by the staff secretary.
One of the areas Porter was set to delve further into was trade policy, according to the person. Porter was a regular attendee at a weekly trade meeting among top-level administration officials.
He was also being considered for the deputy chief of staff position, another source familiar with the situation said. CNN reported Friday that Jim Carroll, who served as the deputy chief of staff for less than three months, was stepping down to helm the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Several White House officials, including chief of staff John Kelly, were receptive to promoting Porter. Kelly had told associates that Porter was one of the few competent professionals on his staff and wanted to ensure that he was being used to his full potential. CNN has reported that Kelly was aware for months of the potential that Porter’s ex-wives could present damaging information on him.
Kelly “definitely wanted to expand his role,” a source familiar tells CNN.
Senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump also viewed Porter as a professional, competent staffer and worked to elevate his standing inside the West Wing, two sources familiar with the situation said.
Aides have stressed in recent days that they were gravely misled by Porter over the allegations.
“That’s what the President did up until the time that it became obvious, when the photographs came out, that the person was not being honest with the President,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “After that happened, we dismissed that person immediately.”
But FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted days of shifting explanations from the administration Tuesday when he said the bureau gave the White House a partial report on problems in Porter’s background last March. That is months earlier than the White House has admitted becoming aware of the problems in Porter’s past.
“The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July,” Wray said as he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Soon thereafter, we received requests for follow up inquiry and we did the follow up and provided that information in November 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.”
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters Thursday that Porter’s background investigation was ongoing.
“He was operating on an interim security clearance,” Shah said. “His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
As the fallout from the Porter scandal has stretched into a new week at the White House, a frustrated President Donald Trump has spent his days phoning allies and associates for advice on how to handle negative coverage, sources familiar with the conversations say. His two main questions regarding the scandal: When does it end? What do we do?
Trump has expressed concerns that dismissing members of his staff could result in a stalled agenda just as his approval ratings have enjoyed an uptick, a person familiar with the conversations said. He is particularly concerned with advancing his immigration proposals, a policy objective that has been helmed by Kelly.
Published at Tue, 13 Feb 2018 17:32:30 +0000