FBI contradicts White House on probe of former aide Porter
FBI contradicts White House on probe of former aide Porter
That account by FBI Director Christopher Wray challenged the White House assertion that Rob Porter’s background “investigation was ongoing” and officials first learned the extent of accusations against him only last week, just before he abruptly resigned.
Wray’s testimony marked the latest development in a scandal that has called into question the judgment of senior members of the White House staff, put new stress on the administration’s already strained credibility with the public, and drawn accusations of tone-deaf handling of abuse allegations.
The week-long fallout from the allegations against Porter, President Donald Trump’s staff secretary, has thrown the West Wing into chaos not seen since the earliest months of the administration and has sparked new rounds of recriminations inside the White House.
Privately, officials acknowledge that the public timeline offered last week — that the administration first learned of the ex-wives’ charges against Porter last Tuesday — was flawed at best.
Several senior officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, were aware of the broad allegations against Porter for months, officials said.
Kelly found out after requesting an update on the large number of senior staffers operating without full security clearances, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. McGahn told Kelly last fall there was concern about information in the background investigation involving Porter’s ex-wives, the official said, and Kelly expressed surprise that Porter had previously been married.
Despite that, Porter took on an increasingly central role in the West Wing and was under consideration to serve as Trump’s deputy chief of staff, two officials said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday, “The White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check.” Yet Wray testified that the FBI sent the White House its preliminary report in March 2017 and its completed investigation in late July. Soon after that, the agency received a request for a follow-up inquiry, and it provided that information in November. Porter was interviewed about the allegations in September, an official said.
“And then we administratively closed the file in January, and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well,” Wray added in his congressional testimony Tuesday, without elaboration.
The FBI does not make recommendations about whether to grant or deny a security clearance, officials said, leaving the determination up to the employee’s agency, in Porter’s case, the White House.
Sanders maintained Tuesday that her statement about an ongoing investigation was accurate because Porter’s clearance hadn’t received a final sign-off from the White House Office of Personnel Security.
“We find those statements to be consistent with one another,” she said.
The White House has refused to divulge the number of staff members who still do not have full clearances, though the list includes Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that “there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level” who are working without full security clearances.
Separately, Trump’s intelligence chief called for top-to-bottom reform of the security clearance process, which allowed Porter to operate in his job for more than a year with only an interim clearance.
“We have a broken system and I think everybody’s come to agree with that now,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told The Associated Press. He called for limits on the information made accessible to those with temporary clearances — a practice that is currently not followed in the West Wing, an official said.
Meanwhile, Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, pushed back against comments made by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway that seemed to suggest strong women can’t be victims of domestic violence.
Conway, in a weekend interview on CNN, said she had no reason to disbelieve accounts by Holderness and another ex-wife that Porter had abused them. But when asked if she was concerned for top White House aide Hope Hicks, who reportedly was dating Porter, Conway said no because “I’ve rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts.”
Conway went on to say that “there’s no question” that domestic violence “knows no demographic or geographic bounds,” and she understands there is a stigma that surrounds these issues.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Holderness wrote that Conway’s first statement “implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong. I beg to differ.”
Porter resigned after Holderness and his second ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, came forward with allegations of emotional and physical abuse. Porter has denied harming his former partners.
The White House approach has drawn criticism even from Trump’s own party.
“I think you can’t justify it,” Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told CNN about a report that the White House arranged for Porter to defend himself privately to reporters after the allegations surfaced. “You can’t justify that.”
India ‘arrogant’ for canceling rare meeting: Pakistan’s Khan
- India pulled the plug on a meeting between its foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart set for next week on the sidelines of a major UN conference, just one day after saying it would go ahead.
- High-level talks between India and Pakistan are rare.
ISLAMABAD: India’s decision to cancel rare talks with Islamabad was disappointing and “arrogant,” Imran Khan said Saturday, one day after New Delhi accused Pakistan’s prime minister of harboring an “evil agenda.”
India pulled the plug on a meeting between its foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart set for next week on the sidelines of a major UN conference, just one day after saying it would go ahead.
The foreign ministry in New Delhi blamed the about-face on recent actions that had revealed Pakistan’s “evil agenda” and the “true face” of Khan, who hit back on Twitter Saturday.
“Disappointed at the arrogant & negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue,” he wrote.
“However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”
New Delhi said it canceled the talks after the “latest brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities” and the recent release of a series of Pakistani postage stamps “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism.”
India did not specify which killings it was referring to in its statement, but earlier this week, an Indian border guard in the disputed territory of Kashmir was killed and his body mutilated.
Three policemen were then found dead on Friday after being abducted in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan also recently issued postage stamps of Burhan Wani, a charismatic Kashmiri militant commander killed by Indian troops in July 2016, whose death sparked a wave of violent protests in the territory.
India has long accused Pakistan of arming rebel groups in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between the two countries but claimed in full by both.
In a statement from its foreign office, Pakistan said Friday it had “nothing to do with” the deaths, accusing India of spreading “motivated and malicious propaganda.”
The meeting in New York between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi — on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly debate — was only confirmed on Thursday.
It came after Khan wrote to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi calling for a resumption of talks between the nuclear-armed foes.
High-level talks between India and Pakistan are rare. Indian media described the meeting would have been the first in nearly three years.