FBI contradicts White House on probe - Taipei Times
Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FBI contradicts White House on probe

DOMESTIC ABUSE:The White House stuck to its story that the Rob Porter investigation was ongoing because it had received a final sign-off from the personnel security office

AP, WASHINGTON

Contradicting the White House, the FBI on Tuesday said that last year it gave US President Donald Trump’s administration information on multiple occasions about a top aide accused of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives, and the investigation wrapped up last month.

That account by FBI Director Christopher Wray challenged the Trump administration’s assertion that then-White House staff secretary 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 judgement 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 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 time line offered last week — that the administration first learned of the ex-wives’ charges against Porter on 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.

“The White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Monday.

However, Wray testified that the FBI sent the White House its preliminary report in March last year 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 said in his congressional testimony on Tuesday, without elaborating.

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 that her statement about an ongoing investigation was accurate, because Porter’s clearance had not 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, although the list includes Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law.

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