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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 May 2018

FBI contradicts White House on Porter background check

Christopher Wray said the agency completed in late July a background check for security clearance for Rob Porter

Mr Porter, right, had been rising in president Donald Trump’s inner circle and according to a source familiar with the situation, had been talking to White House chief of staff John Kelly, left, about a promotion. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Mr Porter, right, had been rising in president Donald Trump’s inner circle and according to a source familiar with the situation, had been talking to White House chief of staff John Kelly, left, about a promotion. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

FBI director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House version of events surrounding the background check for a former top aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives, increasing pressure on the White House to explain what happened.

Mr Wray, in testimony on Capitol Hill, said the agency completed in late July a background check for security clearance for then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned under pressure last Wednesday amid the abuse allegations.

His comments conflicted with the White House assertion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence agencies had not completed investigations into Porter.

“I’m quite confident that in this particular instance, the FBI followed established protocols,” Mr Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee as the White House faced questions over when it learned about the allegations against Mr Porter.

Mr Porter, who has denied the accusations, had been rising in president Donald Trump’s inner circle and according to a source familiar with the situation, had been talking to White House chief of staff John Kelly about a promotion.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended the handling of the background check.

She told reporters on Tuesday that the White House personnel security office, which received the results of the FBI’s background check on Porter in July, had requested more “fieldwork” on Porter.

That office received a subsequent FBI report in November, and was still working on his security clearance recommendation when Mr Porter resigned.

The case has raised questions about how security clearance investigations are handled and whether it was a security risk to have Mr Porter at the president’s side for months after the accusations.

Mr Porter had been operating under a temporary clearance that gave him access to some sensitive information without a final security clearance.

Mr Wray said a partial report was issued in March and a completed report was submitted in late July. The FBI received a request for a follow-up inquiry, provided it in November and passed along additional information earlier this month.

“Soon thereafter we received a request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and administratively closed the file in January,” he said. “Earlier this month, we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”

Asked if the White House had been informed of the Porter allegations, Mr Wray said: “I can’t get into the content.”

The White House has yet to outline a detailed timeline on who knew what when in the case.

The extent of what Mr Kelly was told at the time is unclear. The White House has said Mr Kelly became “fully aware” of the accusations last Wednesday and promptly obtained Mr Porter’s resignation.

On that day, photos were published in a Daily Mail article, showing one ex-wife with a black eye that she said was a result of an altercation with Mr Porter.

One official said Mr Kelly had wondered last autumn why Mr Porter’s clearance was taking so long - along with those of other top officials, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell said he had been told that “there are a dozen or more people at Mr Kushner’s level whose process is delayed like his” and that it was not uncommon for that to happen in a new administration.

Mr Lowell said he was told Mr Kushner’s was taking longer than usual because of the extent of his holdings, travels and lengthy submissions, and that “there was no concern about the process or Mr Kushner’s ability to do his job.”