White House Let Rob Porter Keep Job Even After Receiving Final F.B.I. Report

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, testified Tuesday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

WASHINGTON — The White House changed its story on Tuesday about how it handled allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace last week, conceding that the F.B.I. told White House career officials last summer about problems in Mr. Porter’s background check. But members of President Trump’s team said top advisers in the West Wing were kept in the dark.

The White House revised its version of events after testimony on Capitol Hill from the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, contradicted earlier and shifting claims from the West Wing.

At a previously scheduled Senate hearing on Tuesday about threats against the United States, Mr. Wray, in response to a question about Mr. Porter, said the F.B.I. had given the White House final results in January of its background investigation into the former staff secretary. Mr. Wray’s account was directly at odds with previous assertions by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, and other White House officials who said Mr. Porter’s background check was still underway when the domestic violence abuse allegations from his two former wives came to light last week in news reports.

Mr. Wray’s words strongly suggested that Mr. Porter, who had been given an interim security clearance, was allowed to continue serving in his influential post in the West Wing long after officials had received word of the troublesome accusations. Three officials confirmed late Tuesday that the practice of giving interim security clearances to new hires in the White House was halted last fall by Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. Politico first reported the change.

Mr. Wray’s testimony also raised questions about the credibility of Mr. Trump’s most senior advisers and the degree of tolerance they may have shown to a colleague apparently eager to cover up a past.

According to Mr. Wray, the F.B.I. updated the White House three times in 2017 — in March, July and November — about Mr. Porter’s background check as it progressed. Mr. Wray did not disclose the information that was given to the White House at those times, but according to two people briefed on the matter, the F.B.I. first provided the White House in July with a rundown of the spousal abuse allegations the bureau had uncovered against Mr. Porter.



Who Is Rob Porter?

Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after accusations of spousal abuse, amassed job titles in multiple Senate offices before joining President Trump’s staff.

“The United States, like many other countries, suffers from a lack of trust.” Rob Porter was a high-ranking White House aide with a low public profile. He was the man responsible for managing all documents that were seen by the president. But unlike some people Donald Trump brought to the White House, Porter was no stranger to Washington politics. “One of the president’s most trusted advisers.” “She says he choked her.” “He says he’s innocent.” Porter was forced to resign after his two ex-wives came forward with allegations of domestic violence. “Rob followed me to the shower and pulled me out of the shower to continue the rage.” Former classmates and colleagues described Porter as confident and capable, but others described his behavior as cocky and overly ambitious. He served as chief of staff for Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah for over two years. The clean-cut Republican went to Harvard Law School and was a Rhodes scholar. “Indeed, in these three areas, the facts of the campaign point to George W. Bush as the clear and essential choice for president of the United States.” His father was a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and is a professor at Harvard. While in law school, Porter took two years off to go on a Mormon mission in London. Both of Porter’s ex-wives have spoken out about the Mormon church’s role in their relationships. Jennifer Willoughby said: Recently, The Daily Mail reported that Porter was in a relationship with Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. Porter was a rising star in Washington politics. His abrupt exit puts another unwanted spotlight on the White House.

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Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after accusations of spousal abuse, amassed job titles in multiple Senate offices before joining President Trump’s staff.CreditCredit...Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

In November, the F.B.I. provided the White House with additional information about the allegations.

Ms. Sanders insisted Tuesday that senior West Wing officials had not learned about the allegations against Mr. Porter until they surfaced in The Daily Mail because the F.B.I. gave the information to the White House Personnel Security Office, which handles security clearances. The office is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House and is overseen by Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff.

Ms. Sanders said that the security office — which she repeatedly noted was staffed by “career officials,” who would not have been appointed by Mr. Trump — had not yet made a final determination on whether Mr. Porter should receive his security clearance at the time of The Mail’s article.

Still, pressed on whether senior officials — including John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel; and Mr. Hagin — could have been unaware as far back as last summer that such a significant issue had been raised about one of the president’s closest aides, she conceded she could not be certain.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Ms. Sanders said. “I can’t say with 100 percent certainty.”

According to the two people briefed on the matter, the White House security office reviewed the allegations about Mr. Porter in July and saw that the F.B.I. had interviewed Mr. Porter’s two former wives but not Mr. Porter himself. The office asked the F.B.I. to go back and do so, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

In November, the F.B.I. provided another report to the security office, the two people said, adding that at that point, a final review began to determine whether to grant Mr. Porter a security clearance. As part of that review, three officials in the personnel office, including its head, were supposed to come to their own conclusions about whether to grant the clearance, the people said.

By the time The Mail published its article last week, only one of those officials had made a determination, the two people said, although it is not clear what the official had concluded.

In late November last year, a distraught girlfriend of Mr. Porter’s contacted Mr. McGahn and told him Mr. Porter had been unfaithful to her by dating Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, and had anger problems, according to several people familiar with the discussion. Mr. McGahn, who knew Mr. Porter’s girlfriend, at that point suggested to Mr. Porter he should consider leaving the White House, the people said. But Mr. McGahn did not follow up on the matter.

One former White House official, Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted 10 days last year as White House communications director before being removed by Mr. Kelly, weighed in on Tuesday on Mr. Wray’s testimony. Mr. Scaramucci posted on Twitter that Mr. Kelly “almost certainly knew about credible allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter at least 6 months ago - then recently forced others to lie about that timeline.”

“Inexcusable,” Mr. Scaramucci added. “Kelly must resign.”

Ms. Sanders said Mr. Trump maintained confidence in Mr. Kelly, who told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that he had no regrets about how Mr. Porter’s case was handled, adding that “it was all done right.”

Mr. Porter, who as staff secretary handled all of the documents that made their way to the president, had in the weeks before the allegations been seeking an expanded portfolio in the West Wing, where experienced aides who can bring order to a chaotic operation are in short supply.

Mr. Trump’s aides initially said they had no inkling of the accusations against Mr. Porter until the reports in The Mail, and said they acted swiftly to terminate him when they discovered them. In fact, the White House spent the first hours after learning of the accusations — including the publication of photographs of one of Mr. Porter’s former wives with a black eye she said he had given her — defending Mr. Porter against the allegations and insisting that he was not being dismissed.

Even after Mr. Kelly changed his stance, calling the allegations vile and orchestrating Mr. Porter’s swift departure, the president has stuck up for Mr. Porter publicly, telling reporters that the situation had been “tough” and “sad” for Mr. Porter. The president insisted that Mr. Porter had denied the accusations, and wished him a successful career. On Tuesday, asked by reporters at a White House event with sheriffs if he had a message for victims of abuse, Mr. Trump declined to answer.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties criticized how the White House had handled the episode.

“A lot of us are concerned about what has come to light in terms of these background checks — how long they take, how long somebody can be in an interim status and still have access to classified material,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. He said the scandal had exacerbated a generational divide that was already plaguing the party.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Mr. Trump, who dispatched Ms. Sanders yesterday to denounce domestic violence but has not addressed the matter himself, had missed an opportunity.

“I haven’t heard the president say something directly about how bad domestic abuse is,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “You know, to have a spokesperson get out and say something is not good enough.”

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