The White House and the FBI differed in their accounts Tuesday about when White House officials knew about spousal abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter.
FBI Director Christopher Wray gave this sequence of events in Senate testimony: The bureau submitted a partial report on Porter’s background check to the White House in March, completed it in late July and followed up in November before closing the file in January.
Porter’s two ex-wives said they told FBI agents conducting the investigation that Porter had physically abused them.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the White House Office of Personnel Security didn’t consider the investigation complete until November — and it had not made a final determination on Porter’s security clearance. Both the FBI and the White House said the agency sent additional information on the background investigation as recently as this month.
Pressed to clarify Tuesday, Sanders said she couldn’t say when the White House learned about the domestic violence allegations. “I wouldn’t have access to that information,” she said.
The White House faces questions about how Porter was allowed access to some of the nation’s most classified secrets as the staffer directly responsible for the flow of paperwork to and from President Trump.
The episode put a spotlight on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who maintained that he took action against Porter immediately after finding out about the allegations. Sanders repeated that assertion Tuesday. “I can only give you the best information I have, and that’s my understanding,” she said.
Kelly told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that the Porter matter “was all done right.” Tuesday, Kelly attended a meeting in the Cabinet Room and asked news photographers to stop taking his picture.
The White House explanation of the timeline draws a distinction between the White House Personnel Security Office — run by career civil servants in a nearby office building — and senior advisers in the West Wing.
“The FBI portion (of the check) was closed,” Sanders said. “The White House Personnel Security Office, who is the one that makes a recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process and therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.”
Sanders said an overhaul of the background check process would have to come from the law enforcement and investigative agencies responsible for them.
Wray defended the FBI investigation to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He did not discuss the nature of the allegations in the background investigation.
“I’m quite confident that the FBI followed established protocols,” Wray said.
In a statement issued through the White House, Porter denied the allegations last week. The White House announced his resignation last Wednesday but suggested he would stay on to help his successor.
Kelly issued a statement calling him “a man of true integrity and honor.” Hours later, pictures surfaced showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye, and Kelly issued a more critical statement saying he “was shocked” by “the new allegations.”
By Thursday, Porter was gone.
Kelly said in that second statement that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society,” but he added that “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”
Porter’s departure was quickly followed by David Sorensen, a White House speechwriter, also accused of domestic abuse. Sorensen denied his former wife’s claims.
Trump tweeted Saturday that lives were destroyed by a “mere allegation.”
“Is there no such thing any longer as due process?” Trump said.
Those comments cut against the current of a national movement encouraging women to come forward with their accounts of sexual violence in the wake of high-profile allegations against Hollywood producers, politicians, journalists and corporate executives.
Congress is working to address sexual harassment and assault allegations on Capitol Hill. The House passed a bill last week that would require members to pay settlements for claims rather than taxpayers.
Trump, himself accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, expressed his support for others accused of abusive behavior, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News chief Roger Ailes.