WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House account of when it was first informed about possible problems dredged up in a background check of former top Trump aide Rob Porter.
Wray, in sworn testimony before the Senate intelligence committee, said the FBI completed its background investigation of Porter in July, months before Porter’s two ex-wives disclosed to multiple news outlets alleged incidents of physical and verbal abuse.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed to the White House,” Wray told the panel. “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. That soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and that we administratively closed the file in January.”
Administration officials have said repeatedly for the past week that the background investigation into Porter was still in the works. The administration has said many top officials including White House chief of staff John Kelly were not aware of the severity of the assault allegations against Porter, until reports of the allegations surfaced this month.
Porter resigned last week as White House staff secretary.
Last Wednesday, Kelly described Porter as “a man of true integrity and honor.”
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that day that no one at the White House, including President Donald Trump, had called on Porter to resign. Hours later, she and Kelly backed away from their endorsements amid uproar over the White House response to the allegations. Kelly promised to oversee Porter’s “swift” exit.
On Tuesday, Huckabee Sanders defended the White House explanation. She said even though the FBI probe of Porter was closed, a separate investigation by the White House personnel security office was still going on.
“The White House personnel security office, who is the one that makes the recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process and therefore not made a recommendation to the White House,” she said at a press briefing.
On Monday, however, she had told reporters the background investigation process “doesn’t operate within the White House. It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”
Porter, whose job gave him access to Trump and classified documents, had been working under an interim security clearance. Republican and Democratic members of Congress expressed concern about whether he should have been allowed to view sensitive materials for nearly a year without full security clearance.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, speaking at Tuesday’s Senate hearing, said federal employees with interim security clearances should have only limited access to classified information.
“Sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot, but . . . access has to be limited in terms of the kinds of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive,” Coats said. “It needs to be reformed.”