Chris Wray disputes White House’s claims of ignorance over allegations of domestic abuse, saying investigation was submitted
The FBI director, Chris Wray, contradicted the White House on Tuesday about when the bureau had completed a background investigation of former Donald Trump aide Rob Porter, who resigned last week following allegations of domestic violence.
The White House has claimed ignorance of allegations of spousal abuse against Porter, who was promoted to become a close aide to the president, until the moment photos of one of his ex-wives, Colbie Holderness, were published last week showing her with a badly bruised eye.
But Wray testified before Congress that the FBI had submitted a completed background investigation on Porter to the White House in July 2017 and later supplied two follow-up reports.
“We administratively closed the file in January” of 2018, Wray said, setting a date months before the White House officials said they knew about the allegations.
In the face of heated questioning Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders denied there was a contradiction between the White House story and the FBI story.
Sanders acknowledged that the White House had received a report from the FBI on a completed background investigation into Porter, but she claimed that at the time of Porter’s resignation that report was stuck in the White House personnel office.
“The White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials,” Sanders said, “had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House.”
She drew a distinction between that office and the work done by agents, saying: “The FBI portion was closed.”
“The White House personnel security office,” she continued, “had not finished their investigation.”
Challenged on whether White House chief of staff John Kelly really had no inkling of the allegations against Porter, Sanders said “that’s my understanding”.
After the first report last week, Kelly initially defended Porter’s character as “a man of true integrity and honor”. He later claimed to be “shocked” by further revelations, but his contradictory and shifting explanations raised questions about what he and other White House officials knew of Porter’s background.
The changing White House statements also raised questions about Kelly’s future and another shake-up in the president’s inner circle, which has had historic turnover. Over the weekend, one senior aide to the president, Kellyanne Conway, insisted Trump continues to have confidence in Kelly.
The White House deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, last week blamed what he said was an incomplete FBI inquiry for the failure to identify the alleged abuser.
“In the case of Rob Porter, we relied on the background check investigative process,” Shah said on 8 February, in his first-ever turn at the Brady briefing room lectern. “That process hadn’t been completed, so we were relying on the information that we had.”
Wray contradicted that account Tuesday.
FBI Director Wray on Rob Porter background investigation: "We administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well."— CSPAN (@cspan) February 13, 2018
Watch Senate Intelligence Cmte – LIVE C-SPAN3 https://t.co/kmRM1pLJeS pic.twitter.com/4LJ3x78Z3p
On Saturday, the president sent a tweet that some read as a defense of Porter.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Trump tweeted. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
At least 20 such women have accused Trump personally of sexual misconduct. He has said they are lying.
Wray was also asked about the president’s assertion on Twitter that the reputation of the FBI is in tatters.
“There’s no shortage of opinions about our agency,” Wray said. He encouraged “folks not to get to hung up” on what he called social media “noise”.