Sources have aired contradictory accounts in the press of how the allegations against former aide Rob Porter, accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives, were handled by the White House.
Nailing down who knew what and when is the key to understanding whether Porter was purposefully protected despite credible evidence of wrongdoing, which is really the question at the heart of the matter. In Senate testimony on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray, whose department had been conducting Porter's background check, added some clarity to the timeline. Unable to obtain a security clearance, the resigned staff secretary had been operating with a temporary one.
"I can’t get into the content of what was briefed, what I can tell you is the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July," explained Wray. "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 additional information, and we passed that on as well."
Both of Porter's ex-wives have said they detailed his alleged abuse in investigations with the FBI, even supplying investigators with photographic evidence of a black eye.
Unless Wray is lying — or the reports given to the White House did not include that information — someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was aware of the allegations and either decided not to prioritize taking action or sided with Porter.
That's a big problem for the White House. At Monday's press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed, "The process for the background was ongoing, and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check," which seems to directly contradict Wray's testimony that his department had closed the file last month, and then passed along additional information.
Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah also claimed last week that Porter's "background investigation was ongoing" and "his clearance was never denied" before his resignation.
Sources have said Porter misrepresented the allegations to John Kelly and Don McGahn, reportedly assuring them his former wives were falsely accusing him of emotional and verbal abuse. Even if that's true, one would think the claims might be enough for both men to independently pursue answers, in which case they would encounter the FBI reports and presumably the credible details from his ex-wives about why Porter's clearance was being held up.
The bottom line is Porter's assurances that his ex-wives were pushing false allegations that involved no physical abuse should not have been enough for McGahn and Kelly to move on without verification, no matter how believable his denials seemed. The White House seems to be aware the situation was mishandled, sending aides scrambling to protect or implicate their peers with varying accounts to the press.
Wray's testimony on Monday could end up marking a serious blow to their credibility.
The critical questions going forward are who at the White House received the FBI reports, when did they receive them, what information did they contain, and what was the bureau's conclusion upon closing the file last month. The answers to most of those inquiries seem discernible based on what we already know, but it's now incumbent upon the White House to be straightforward and avoid digging itself into a deeper hole.