FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House timeline of how it handled—or didn’t—domestic-abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter.
During a Senate intelligence hearing on Tuesday, Wray testified that the FBI informed the White House as early as March 2017 about at least some of the findings of a background check on Porter as part of his security-clearance application.
Porter’s ex-wives publicly accused him last week of physical abuse in their marriages, and said they told the FBI he was abusive during interviews with agents as part of his background check for a security clearance to handle classified information.
During an exchange with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Wray was asked whether the bureau's background investigation and its findings could affect Porter's security clearance for working in the White House.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed,” Wray initially said.
Wyden pressed: “Were they informed?”
Wray responded by laying out a timeline of the FBI’s actions that is fairly damning to the White House’s public declarations about the way they handled the situation.
“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 is—soon thereafter we received requests for a follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up, and provided that information in November,” Wray 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 response to these revelations, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that even if the FBI had finished its procedure on Porter's background check, the White House personnel security office had not and “therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.”
Sanders and Chief of Staff John Kelly initially defended Porter to the Daily Mail until a photograph of Porter’s ex-wife, featuring a black eye, surfaced. The White House has repeatedly claimed that it was only made “fully aware” of the allegations against Porter when they surfaced in the press—Kelly even reportedly claimed he took action against Porter within “40 minutes” of learning.
Wray’s testimony directly calls into question the White House's public assertions about what they knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it.
On Monday, Sanders declined to directly answer whether “At any time, between January 25th of last year and last Wednesday, did the FBI make anyone here at the White House...aware of the allegations that had been raised against Porter by Colbie Holderness and his second wife, Jennie Willoughby?”
“Look, we learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening,” Sanders claimed, “and within 24 hours, his resignation had been accepted and announced.”
But according to Politico, Sanders arranged an off-the-record meeting with Porter and four reporters in which the accused former staffer “relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.” The White House did not comment on this meeting and whether Kelly was made aware of it.
The White House also claimed that an investigation was still ongoing. Legislative director March Short said on Sunday that the FBI “had not completed that investigation.” Sanders said Monday that “the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check. So I can’t go any further than what we’ve already said on that front.”
Wray told Wyden “we administratively closed the file” in January.
When asked Monday by the Wall Street Journal if the matter could've been handled better, Kelly said no. “It was all done right,” he added.