The FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, said on Tuesday that the bureau delivered final results in January of its background investigation into Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace amid spousal abuse allegations. But the White House allowed Porter to continue serving in his post until the accusations surfaced publicly in press reports last week.
In testimony on Capitol Hill, Wray upended the White House’s timeline of the events that led to Porter’s departure, contradicting the contention of top officials that his background investigation was “ongoing” at the time of his resignation.
Wray also told lawmakers that the bureau delivered its first report on Porter to the White House in March, months earlier than White House officials said they learned of the problems with his background check. Wray did not disclose the contents of that initial report, but Porter’s two ex-wives have said they told FBI agents of the abuse in interviews conducted in January 2017.
Wray’s testimony pointed up a contradictory and frequently changing story line from the White House about a scandal that has engulfed the West Wing. It has raised questions about the credibility of President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers, their awareness of serious allegations against an aide who had access to some of the nation’s most sensitive information, and the degree of tolerance they may have shown to an ambitious colleague apparently eager to cover up a dark past.
Porter, who as staff secretary handled all of the documents that made their way to the president, was forced to resign last week after allegations of abuse by his two ex-wives surfaced, sparking a week of shifting explanations by White House officials about who knew about Porter’s history and when they knew it. In the weeks before, according to people familiar with the situation, he had been jockeying for an expanded portfolio in the West Wing, where experienced aides who can bring order to a chaotic operation are in short supply.
Trump’s aides initially said they had no inkling of the accusations against Porter until press reports that first appeared in The Daily Mail last week, and 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 his ex-wives with a black eye she said he gave her — defending Porter against the allegations and insisting that he was not being dismissed.
Since then, multiple people familiar with the situation have said that top officials — including John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff for operations; and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel — learned in November that there were problems with Porter’s background investigation.
Even after Kelly changed his stance, calling the allegations vile and orchestrating Porter’s swift departure, the president has stuck up for him publicly, telling reporters that the situation had been “tough” and “sad” for Porter. The president insisted that Porter had denied the accusations, and wished him a successful career.
Porter’s two former wives, who accuse him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages, both say they informed FBI investigators conducting his background check of the incidents in January of last year.
Wray’s testimony suggested that the White House security office, which handles security clearances and is overseen by Hagin, had received a preliminary report on Porter from the FBI months earlier than previously known.
Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wray did not disclose the contents of the bureau’s inquiry. But he said that after the partial report in March, the FBI gave the White House “a completed background investigation” on Porter in late July. He said the bureau received a request for a “follow-up inquiry” — the kind of directive that typically would have come from a senior official in the West Wing — and provided more information about Porter’s background to the White House in November.
He also said that Porter’s background check investigation was “administratively closed” in January, weeks before the allegations against Porter were publicly known.
Wray said he was “quite confident” that established protocol was followed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary who on Monday deflected a number of questions about how the White House handled Porter’s case, also suggested that it was the intelligence agencies that conduct background checks who should consider their handling of the matter.
“It’s up to those same law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine if changes need to be made to their process,” Sanders said.
Officials have said the security office at the White House was first contacted by the FBI in June, and again in November. But White House officials also have insisted that the investigation into Porter’s background was never completed.
“His background investigation was ongoing,” Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters last week. “He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
Wray said on Tuesday that while the background investigation was closed in January, the bureau “received some additional information” after the file was closed and passed that on to the White House as well.