The media seems to be in a frenzy about the Rob Porter-wife beating scandal, as the White House enters Day 7 of being unable to explain the timeline of events about Porter’s firing, and why he was allowed to stay on as the right-hand man to President Trump even though he couldn’t get a security clearance.
To recap….. Rob Porter, Trump’s staff secretary, who has since resigned, was accused earlier this month of abusing both Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby. Holderness, Porter’s first wife, said she was punched in the face by Porter in 2005 and shared photos of the black eye with CNN and other outlets. In an extensive interview last week, Holderness said Porter repeatedly choked her and threw her on the bed while putting his body weight on her using a limb. She revealed that she did not realize the severity of the situation until years into the marriage, when a trained counselor told her Porter’s behavior was unacceptable. Porter denies these claims.
But as I say, the continued mishandling of the Porter matter is what is plaguing the White House now.
Here — based on CNN’s reporting from more than a dozen sources with knowledge of the Porter fallout and public statements made by top Trump officials — is what Trump’s team actually knew when they were trying to clean up the Porter controversy:
Tuesday, February 6
What happened: The Daily Mail publishes its first report on the allegations leveled by staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, at 7:09 p.m. The ex-wives allege physical and emotional abuse, but no photos of the abuse are published in the news article.
What the White House said: White House chief of staff John Kelly tells the Daily Mail that Porter “is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tells the outlet that Porter is “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”
What they actually knew: Top White House aides knew this story was coming and many — including communications director Hope Hicks and Kelly — worked to prepare a response to the story before it was published. But even though Kelly and Sanders lauded Porter, the White House had months earlier received both Porter’s partial and full background investigation, FBI Director Chris Wray told senators on Tuesday. Wray said the partial report was sent to the White House in March, while the full report was completed in July.
Additionally, CNN has reported previously that it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. Kelly took no action on this information and, instead, saw that Porter’s standing inside the White House was elevated.
And Porter told White House counsel Don McGahn in early 2017 that his background check could include derogatory information from the ex-wives, Holderness and Willoughby.
What happened: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, tweets a photo of Holderness’ black eye, which she says Porter caused while on vacation in Florence, Italy. The photos were tweeted at 1:53 a.m., marking the first time the disturbing photos were made public.
What the White House said: The photos sent the White House scrambling, even as some top officials remained staunch supporters of Porter. The Daily Mail then published another story — with the photos — at 10:47 a.m.
Sanders, less than 24 hours after issuing a glowing statement about Porter, announces at the afternoon press briefing that Porter had resigned, but that his departure “won’t be immediate.”
Sanders — at a briefing that started at 1:32p ET — maintains that “Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the President and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.”
Sanders reads a statement from Porter that includes a forceful denial: “These outrageous allegations are simply false.”
Kelly did not revise his glowing statement of Porter until 9:28 p.m., when he issued a new statement that said he was “shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter.” The statement includes a condemnation of domestic violence — “There is no place for domestic violence in our society” — but Kelly continues to stand by his previously positive comments about Porter.
Kelly would later say that it took only 40 minutes for him to see the photos and get Porter out.
What they actually knew: By this point, the White House had seen the photos and was well aware of the gravity, but Porter, who had resigned, was allowed to stay on at the White House until a successor could be named.
Though Kelly would later claim that it took him less than an hour to take action on Porter, it took him close to 24 hours to revise the glowing statement he issued about the now-departed Trump aide — and Porter was not dismissed immediately in light of the photos.
Additionally, Porter sat down for an interview with the FBI in the fall of 2017 and the domestic abuse allegations against him were brought up. After the interview, Porter provided more detail to McGahn about what his ex-wives are claiming, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
McGahn later learned in September, the source said, that the domestic violence allegations against Porter were causing his full security clearance to be delayed.
Thursday, February 8
What happened: White House spokesman Raj Shah, filling in for Sanders, declines to get into details about how much Kelly knew about the allegations and when he first learned of them. “He became fully aware of these allegations yesterday. I am not going to get into the specifics of who may have known,” Shah said.
What the White House said: At the White House briefing that started at 3:40 p.m., Shah announced that Porter’s last day at the White House was Wednesday — despite the initial plan for him to stay on to find a replacement — and that he cleaned out his desk on Thursday morning. Shah also claimed that Porter’s background investigation “was ongoing” when he resigned.
What they actually knew: Wray’s testimony on February 13 undercut Shah’s claim that Porter’s background check was “ongoing” when he resigned.
Wray told senators that the FBI delivered its final report on Porter in July and closed its file on the aide in January, well before the White House claimed to have first learned of the gravity of the allegations against Porter.
Friday, February 9
What happened: During a regular morning meeting on Friday, Kelly tells aides that he was responsible for securing Porter’s decision to step down from his position and claims he took action within 40 minutes of seeing the photos that had surfaced overnight showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.
The timeline Kelly provided is countered by how top White House aides acted on Wednesday.
What the White House said: Trump, during a meeting in the Oval Office with a supporter, makes his first on-camera statement about Rob Porter around 1p.m. ET:
“We wish him well, he worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now. Now he also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
What they actually knew: Trump’s claim that he “found out about it recently” is undercut by a wealth of reporting that shows the FBI informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter, including information that it obtained during interviews with his ex-wives.
In March 2017, when the FBI delivered its first report about Porter to the White House, the FBI flagged concerns over Porter’s clearance, according to two law enforcement officials.
And Kelly’s claim that it took him only 40 minutes after seeing the photos on Wednesday to force Porter’s resignation is also untrue, given the facts known. Porter was initially expected to stay on until a successor was found — a process that could have taken weeks — and Kelly left his glowing statement about Porter unedited for nearly 20 hours after the photos were first published on Twitter.
Saturday, February 10
What happened: Trump laments — via a tweet at 10:33 a.m. — that people’s “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” an apparent reference to Porter.
What they actually knew: By Saturday, Trump’s top aides were aware of the details and the seriousness with which the FBI and others had treated the allegations against Porter.
Trump, though, decided not to mention victims of domestic assault in his tweet, and instead focused on people like Porter, whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Sanders said on February 12 that “the President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously, and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”
Sunday, February 11
What the White House said: Marc Short, Trump’s top legislative aide, tells NBC that the White House “had not received a final investigation” when Porter resigned. “The FBI has the ongoing investigations,” Short says. “They have not completed that investigation.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway adds that Trump is “very disturbed” by the allegations against Porter. “I think he’s very disappointed,” she tells CNN. “I think he believes that the resignation was appropriate.”
What they actually knew: Wray told the Senate on February 13 that the background investigation into Porter was, in fact, complete well before Porter resigned.
He told the senators that the FBI completed its background investigation in late July. He also said that the FBI was asked for follow up information on Porter in November and closed the file on Porter in January.
And though Conway said Trump was supportive of Porter stepping down, his tweet one day earlier seemingly expressed sympathy for Porter.
Monday, February 12
What the White House said: Sanders, again, declines to answer key questions about how the White House handled allegations against Porter, but she does claim that the White House “learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening.”
“We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening,” she said. “And within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced.”
What they actually knew: Wray’s testimony on February 13 calls Sanders’ claim into question. The FBI says it informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter in March and later in July.
Additionally, around Thanksgiving, Porter’s ex-girlfriend called McGahn to express concerns about his romantic relationship with Hope Hicks and detailed the ex-wives’ abuse allegations.
And McGahn was told by the White House Security Office in November 2017 that there are “domestic issues” in Porter’s background, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kelly and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin were also made aware of the domestic issues, the source said, but the White House contends that the “full nature” of the allegations did not come out until later.
Tuesday, February 13
What happened: Wray, in brief comments about Porter before the Senate Intelligence Committee, contradicts the White House’s suggestion that the delay in processing Porter’s security clearance was with the FBI.
What the White House said: Wray’s comments meant Sanders would have to change her story, so on Tuesday, she admitted that the FBI did complete their investigation. But, she added, the White House Personnel Security office — which Sanders said was staffed by “career officials” — “had not completed their process” on Porter yet.
What they actually knew: This directly contradicts what Sanders said 24 hours earlier, when she looked to blame the FBI for the backlog in security clearances. “Look, this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House,” Sanders said. “It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”
Which brings us to today. Clearly, it looks like Chief of Staff Kelly was protecting Porter for a long time, and his story is belied by Wray’s testimony yesterday. On top of that, a number of White House officials appear to have blabbed to reporters about what a mess Kelly has made of things. Wray’s FBI timeline makes one thing clear: the Kelly coverup is unraveling right before our eyes.
It’s so bad that CNN has an article up speculating about Kelly’s successor:
While the source said there was no indication on Friday that Trump would ask Kelly to resign over the matter, another source told CNN’s Gloria Borger that Trump has been asking friends and associates over the phone about various potential replacements for the chief of staff position.Those would-be candidates include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and CIA Director Mike Pompeo could also be on the list of potential replacements.
I don’t know. The decision is Trump’s and the reports that he wants Kelly out seems thin. Trump respects and is in awe of the military. Besides, we’ve learned that Kelly is very much like Trump, right down to the racism and sexism.
Maybe the Senate inquiry might push Trump to do something. This came from Trey Gowdy yesterday.
You really have to laugh — and cry — when you recall that Trump was the one who said he would drain the swamp in DC.