The White House changed its story on when it knew about allegations of domestic violence made against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter three times in 24 hours last week. On Tuesday, the FBI blew up the timeline again by saying that the White House knew the severity of the allegations in the summer of 2017.
And on Thursday, CNN reported that Porter told one of his ex-wives that he had been made aware by White House staff that his security clearance was being delayed because of concerns that Porter was “violent” — in September 2017, five months before White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the media he had been made fully aware of the allegations.
Last week, White House staff secretary Rob Porter left the White House after allegations of domestic violence made by his ex-wives became public. He held a senior position within the White House despite lacking a permanent security clearance, traveling with the president internationally, presenting him with confidential documents, and helping to write Trump’s first State of the Union
On February 8, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said the FBI never completed a background check into Porter — which would have uncovered a 2010 emergency protective order obtained by Porter’s former wife, Jennifer Willoughby:
To summarize, the allegations against Rob Porter are serious and deeply troubling. He did deny them. The incidents took place long before he joined the White House. Therefore, they were investigated as part of the background check, as this process is meant for such allegations. It was not completed, and Rob Porter has since resigned.
But the FBI told Congress this week that’s not at all what happened. In a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing held Tuesday morning, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that not only was the background check on Porter completed, it was completed in July 2017. The White House then asked for additional details, which it received in November.
“I’m quite confident that in this particular instance, the FBI followed the established protocols,” Wray said.
Key exchange between @RonWyden & FBI Dir. Chris Wray -- on timeline of Rob Porter's security clearance background check & when the White House was notified: "What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March" pic.twitter.com/I1n4qHqxP7— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) February 13, 2018
The White House can’t keep its story straight
With Wray’s statements and with new details from Porter’s former wife, there are at least five different accounts, from the Trump White House, the FBI and Rob Porter himself, with four separate timelines of what the White House knew and when they knew it:
Here’s the order in which events really happened — and how the White House has changed its story.
- According to the FBI, the agency completed a background check required for a security clearance in July of 2017, including interviews with Porter’s ex-wives. The White House asked for follow-up information, which the FBI submitted in November. Both White House counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Kelly were aware of the allegations against Porter by November of 2017.
- CNN reported that Rob Porter contacted his former wife, Jennie Willoughby, in September 2017, telling her that he’d been told his background check had been delayed because of concerns that Porter had been abusive in the past, asking if she had used the word “violent” in her interviews with the FBI about him. Willoughby told CNN that Porter contacted her again later that month to ask her again if she’d told the FBI about any allegations of domestic violence.
- Five months later, the allegations of abuse against Porter finally became public. On February 6, when the Daily Mail’s story broke, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Chief of Staff John Kelly both spoke highly of Porter. Porter “is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,” Sanders said. Kelly also defended Porter, saying, “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor.”
- On February 7, the Daily Mail published a follow-up story with photographs of Porter’s ex-wife Colbie Holderness with a black eye. Porter resigned from his position, and the White House started changing its story. Kelly claimed that the allegations were “new”: “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter,” he said. “I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.” Meanwhile, Sanders said in a press briefing that Porter had decided to leave the White House on his own accord: “Look, I think that was a personal decision that Rob made, and one that he was not pressured to do, but one that he made on his own.”
- Also on February 7, according to new reporting from Politico, immediately after the Daily Mail article appeared, press secretary Sanders invited four reporters to an off-the-record briefing with Porter on his side of the story.
- On February 8, the White House started suggesting that, actually, despite what Sanders and Kelly had said the day before, maybe Porter had been fired rather than quit. During a press conference, deputy press secretary Shah said both that Porter had “resigned” and that he had been “terminated.”
- On February 9, Kelly reportedly told White House staff — and later, the media — that he had convened a meeting immediately upon hearing about the allegations from the Daily Mail — specifically, photographs of Holderness with a black eye — and terminated Porter’s employment within 40 minutes. That directly contradicts Politico’s reporting that after the Daily Mail published the photographs, Porter was meeting with reporters to tell his side of the story.
Keyyy said he found out Tuesday night “that the accusations were true. 40 minutes later he was gone.” But POTUs today said he takes Porter’s denial into consideration.— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) February 9, 2018
The questions the White House hasn’t answered
It’s been more than a week since the first allegations against Porter and the White House still hasn’t answered critical questions about his exit from the White House.
- First, how was Porter able to serve in a high-level role within the White House with a complete background check that left him with only an “interim” status — one that is typically temporary?
- Was he terminated from his role, or did he resign?
- If the background check was completed as early as July and the allegations against Porter were known to the White House, does that mean that former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who served in the role until July 31, was also aware of them?
- If Porter was aware for the reasoning behind the delay in his background check in September, wouldn’t Kelly also have been aware?
- Why did Kelly claim to be “shocked” by the allegations against Porter if he’d been aware of them since September of 2017?
- Why did he reportedly ask Porter to “stay and fight” the allegations on February 7 if, according to Kelly, he had terminated Porter 40 minutes after finding out about the photographs of Porter’s ex-wife?
- How could Kelly have fired Porter within 40 minutes of learning about the severity of the allegations if Porter was meeting with reporters for an off-the-record discussion regarding the allegations against him during that same timeframe?
- Why was the president’s first move to defend Porter publicly while reportedly asking anonymous aides to tell news outlets that he thinks domestic abusers are “sick puppies”?
- And finally, how could the White House have allegedly been considering Porter for a promotion while simultaneously aware of the allegations, especially that he would be unable to receive a permanent security clearance because of them?