During congressional testimony on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray presented a timeline of when the White House was informed about red flags in Rob Porter’s background check process that conflicts with the talking points Trump officials have been using over the past week.
“What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” Wray said. “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 some additional information and we passed that on as well.”
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and deputy press secretary Raj Shah have repeatedly insisted that the background check process into Porter was ongoing when media reports surfaced of alleged physical and emotional abuse he had inflicted on both of his ex-wives.
“His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah said last Thursday. “He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
During a press briefing on Monday, Sanders said “the background was ongoing.”
During a Fox & Friends interview Tuesday morning, Shah said “what we know about Rob Porter specifically, and that’s the incident that everybody is talking about, is that his background check investigation had not been completed yet. It was still in the investigative process and it had yet to be adjudicated. Prior to an adjudication the White House is not going to step into the middle of the process and short-circuit it.”
Wray’s testimony indicates Sanders and Shah have been lying — the White House officials let a potential blackmail target serve in a sensitive role handling classified documents even after they were informed that he would be unable to get a security clearance due to the abuse allegations against him.
Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller pointed out that the report Wray says the FBI provided to the White House in March about Porter’s background check process isn’t routine.
About the FBI's interim report on Porter in March: those aren't routine. Usually means the check has turned up something disqualifying that the FBI wants to elevate to decision makers immediately.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 13, 2018
UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): During the White House news briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to explain away the contradiction between Wray’s testimony and what she said on Monday by pinning blame on the White House personnel security office.
“The White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials, received information last year in what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November,” Sanders said. “But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned.”
Sanders didn’t deny that the FBI had informed the White House about issues with Porter’s clearance process in July, but said “in the view of personnel security office, the FBI’s July report required significant additional investigatory field work before personnel security office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication.” She declined to go into detail about what further “additional investigatory field work” the White House thought was required before Trump administration officials could draw the necessary conclusions about Porter’s suitability to handle classified documents in a sensitive role.
Meanwhile, at the end of a meeting with lawmakers about trade at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump ignored reporters who tried to ask him about whether he believes the two ex-wives of a former top White House aide who have both accused him of abuse.