White House reels as FBI director contradicts official claims about alleged abuser
The White House struggled Tuesday to contain a widening crisis over its handling of domestic violence allegations against a senior official, as it reeled after sworn testimony by the FBI chief directly contradicted what President Trump’s aides had presented as the official version of events.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had completed a background report on then-staff secretary Rob Porter last July and closed out the case entirely last month. Wray’s account is at odds with White House claims that the investigation required for Porter’s security clearance was “ongoing” until he left his job last week, after his two ex-wives publicly alleged physical and emotional abuse.
Kelly is “a big fat liar,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.”
This portrait of the West Wing in turmoil is based on interviews with more than a dozen top White House officials and outside advisers and confidants, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.
Kelly’s attempts at explaining his role, according to some aides, have included telling senior staff members last Friday to communicate a version of events many believed to be false, as well as telling at least one confidant that he has “a good bulls--- detector” and had long detected troubling characteristics in Porter.
The internal animus is not limited to Kelly. White House counsel Donald McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin are also facing scrutiny over how Porter managed to work at the White House — and hold an interim security clearance — for more than a year despite the allegations of abuse during his two marriages.
Wray disputes account
On Tuesday, Wray contradicted the White House’s account of when the bureau informed officials about the status of Porter’s security clearance investigation.
White House officials had said that they were first contacted last summer by the FBI about Porter’s clearance, and that the investigation as of last week was “ongoing” and had not been completed.
But Wray, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the FBI submitted a partial report on Porter’s clearance last March and that the investigation was completed last July. Soon after, he added, the FBI received a request for a follow-up, which the bureau completed and provided last November.
The FBI closed the file in January, and when it received additional information this month, “we passed it on as well,” Wray said.
At the White House, Sanders sought to square the conflicting timelines, arguing that even after the FBI closed its investigation, the presidential personnel office was still reviewing Porter’s case when he resigned last week.
“Clearly things happened after the FBI delivered this information to the White House that resulted in Porter’s case just pending for an extended period of time in the personnel office,” said Ron Klain, a senior White House aide in the last two Democratic administrations. “It was a deliberate decision to let him stay at the White House with this hanging over his head.”
So now the buck is passed to the presidential personnel office, which is in the White House, but not in the West Wing. Different wings of the White House pointing fingers at each other.
Several Kelly antagonists have sought to fan speculation that his position may be in imminent danger, noting that Trump has been seeking counsel from friends about who he might bring on as a new chief of staff. The president has floated replacing Kelly with either Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, or House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — though Trump has often sounded out friends about personnel changes that he ultimately does not make.
Nonetheless, one foe described Kelly as “well done,” while another said he was in “big league” trouble.
Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 10 days last summer until Kelly fired him, tweeted, “Kelly must resign.” He continued: “Domestic abuse is a red line. Covering up for it is indefensible.”
White House infighting
Some White House officials, who until recently spoke of Kelly with reverence, have found ways to distance themselves from their boss, including by refusing to personally vouch for his credibility.