The White House has been lying for the past week about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s security clearance status, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed in Senate testimony on Tuesday.
Porter resigned last week amid the publication of allegations that he committed domestic assault against both of his ex-wives. Those reports included a photo of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye that she said was the result of an assault by Porter.
Porter was still operating on an interim security clearance more than one year into his job. It was reported last week that an FBI background check had turned up the domestic assault accusations.
The White House has consistently said that the FBI security clearance process was “ongoing,” implying that the FBI had not concluded its report on Porter.
“The process for the background was ongoing, and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Monday, echoing the official White House stance from last week.
On Tuesday, Wray contradicted that position.
“We administratively closed [Porter’s] file in January,” Wray said during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”
One day after Porter’s resignation, deputy press secretary Raj Shah also gave an account saying that the FBI had not concluded its investigation on Porter. “His background investigation was ongoing,” he told reporters. “He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
Again, the implication here is that the FBI never made a final report to the White House. This was further contradicted by Wray.
“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 a request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November.”
Last week, the Washington Post and others reported roughly the same timeline:
White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly learned this fall about the allegations of spousal abuse and that they were delaying Porter’s security clearance amid an ongoing FBI investigation. But Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.
In Monday’s press briefing, Sanders was asked by a reporter why McGahn had failed to act after learning of the domestic assault allegations, citing the previous reporting of the timeline. “Don McGahn, over a period of months, was told repeatedly by the ex-girlfriend, by the FBI, by others in the White House, about these accusations, and didn’t do anything,” the reporter offered.
Sanders responded: “Those allegations that have been reported are not accurate.”
This, according to Wray’s testimony, was misleading at best and an outright lie at worst. When further pressed on the timeline of the investigation in Monday’s briefing, Sanders reiterated the false proposition that the process was “ongoing.”
“As I know Raj addressed last week, we let the process play out,” she said. “It was ongoing, hadn’t been completed. And beyond that, and the statement I just gave you, I don’t have anything else to add.”
CNN additionally reported on Tuesday that “Porter was involved in serious discussions to be promoted when he abruptly resigned from the White House,” according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The news organization reported that Kelly was “receptive to promoting Porter,” despite knowing about the FBI background check. Multiple intelligence experts have noted the allegations left Porter open to potential blackmail that could have jeopardized classified information. Porter reportedly had been lobbying for additional policy portfolios.
As the Post reported last week, it would have been up to the White House—in this case, it seems McGahn and Kelly—to determine whether or not to grant security clearance based on the findings of the closed FBI investigation.
“Law enforcement officials said the FBI does not make any security clearance determinations or recommendations, but rather provides a report at the end of an investigation to the hiring agency, which makes the decision,” the Post noted.
Multiple organizations reported last week that between 30 and 40 White House officials and political appointees are still operating on interim security clearances. If Washington were functioning properly, the next step would be congressional hearings as to why so many people are accessing top classified information without full clearance and why—in this case—the White House lied about it.
Update, 4:20 p.m.: Press secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday issued a statement saying that the White House’s timeline and Wray’s were not in conflict:
The White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials, received information last year and what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November. But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned. In the view of the personnel security office, the FBI’s July report required significant additional investigatory fieldwork before personnel security office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication. As director Wray said, information was still coming to the White House personnel office in February.
Again, Sanders claimed that this was “consistent” with what Wray said. It is not. Wray said that the FBI closed its file in January. The White House said—and continues to say—the investigation was “ongoing.” Sanders may be trying to fudge and say that the personnel security office hadn’t completed its work, but they are an adjudicating body. The investigating body—the FBI—had completed its work, according to its director, and the White House repeatedly said that the investigation itself was “ongoing.” Sanders also implied that the personnel office had seen “papers” around the FBI’s investigation, but the White House itself had not. This seems disingenuous at best, and we still are no closer to knowing what exactly McGahn and Kelly knew when.