Who in the White House knew, and when did they know it?
That is what reporters throughout Washington, D.C., and beyond are wondering after the resignation of White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who departed the West Wing after allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives were made public. According to multiple reports, top officials at the White House, including chief of staff John Kelly, knew about the allegations against Porter for months. Porter has denied the allegations.
On Friday afternoon, Trump pointed to Porter’s denial while speaking to reporters at the White House.
“We wish him well,” Trump said when asked about Porter’s departure. “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 he also, as you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that.”
On Thursday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said that Kelly became “fully aware” of the accusations against Porter only in the last few days. But he refused to clarify what he meant by “fully aware.”
Shah also refused to provide a timeline of when President Trump’s senior advisers first became aware of the battery allegations.
But based on recent reports by the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Politico and other news sources, Yahoo News has assembled a timeline of what is known about Porter’s case to date.
Porter is appointed staff secretary by Trump. According to the Washington Post, White House Counsel Donald McGahn firsts learns about allegations against Porter from Porter himself.
According to the Post, Porter informs McGahn that his ex-wives were “prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance.” But according to the report, McGahn “did not ask what the accusations were because Porter said they were not true.”
“He wanted Porter to stay put because he saw the Harvard Law-trained Capitol Hill veteran as a steadying, professional voice in the White House,” according to the paper.
The FBI, which handles security clearances for the White House, interviews Porter’s ex-wives that month, according to CNN.
The FBI flags some of its findings about Porter’s alleged abusive behavior to the State Department’s Office of Personnel Security, according to the Post.
McGahn learns the findings were delaying Porter’s security clearance, per the Post. Porter is interviewed by the FBI and was asked about the alleged domestic violence.
According to the Times, McGahn, Kelly and deputy chief of staff for operations Joe Hagin “had known of the issues since late fall,” though “it was unclear whether they knew the extent of the women’s allegations.”
According to the Post, Porter’s ex-girlfriend, who also works in the administration, tells McGahn that “he should investigate the abuse alleged by the ex-wives.” The woman, whose name was not published, reportedly came forward after learning that Porter was having a romantic relationship with White House communications director Hope Hicks.
According to Politico, Kelly is told that the FBI “would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances” — including Porter. Kelly, in turn, tells confidants of plans to “fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported.”
“He knew it was a problem having people who would never be granted permanent clearances, and he was preparing to deal with it,” an unnamed senior administration official told Politico. “And this blew up in his face.”
The Daily Mail first publishes the allegations by Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, who said that Porter pulled her, naked and dripping from the shower, to yell at her.
Both Kelly and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders release statements defending their West Wing colleague.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year,” Sanders said. “And the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”
CNN reports that Hicks helped craft the statements.
Senior White House aide Rob Porter physically assaulted two ex-wives, they tell @theintercept. Full story to come in the morning.
His first wife, Colbie Holderness, provided these photos from a vacation they took together in Florence, Italy: pic.twitter.com/tl3TbyGA8Y
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) February 7, 2018
Photos supplied by Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, showing her with bruises and a black eye are published by the Intercept. Holderness tells CNN that she shared the photos with the FBI when she was interviewed in January 2017.
Despite the growing firestorm, Kelly urges Porter “to stay in the job,” according to the Post.
On Wednesday afternoon, the White House announces Porter’s resignation, but says he will remain in the West Wing to ensure a smooth transition.
Late Wednesday evening, Kelly releases another statement: “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah says that Kelly became “fully aware” of the accusations only in the last few days. Shah also defends allowing Porter to remain in a high-level job for 13 months despite the abuse allegations. “We should not short-circuit an investigation just because allegations are made,” he says. “The truth must be determined, and that is what was going on with Rob Porter.”
Shah also offers a rare glimpse of humility from the briefing room podium.
“I think it’s fair to say we all could have done better over the few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” Shah said.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Willoughby details her abuse allegations, and says she’s worried about the safety of Porter’s reported current paramour.
“If he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will, and particularly now that he’s under a lot of stress and scrutiny,” Willoughby says. “That’s when the behaviors come out.”
Sometime on Thursday, Kelly sends a memo to West Wing staff: “While we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence very seriously. Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society. We understand the shock, pain and confusion that these allegations have cause in our workplace. It is important for me to tell you — you are not alone. Resources are available here at the White House for anyone who is seeking counseling.”
Meanwhile, CNN reports that Trump has “grown increasingly frustrated” with Hicks, the White House communications director and his longtime confidante.
“Trump was also recently surprised to learn that Porter was dating Hicks,” the Post said.
During a meeting with senior staff, Kelly instructs them to “communicate a version of events about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter that contradicts the Trump administration’s previous accounts,” according to the Washington Post, citing two senior White House officials.
“Kelly told those in attendance to say that he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning abuse allegations from two ex-wives were credible,” the paper said.
“He told the staff he took immediate and direct action,” one of the officials told the Post, adding that people after the meeting expressed disbelief with one another and felt his latest account was not true.
“Kelly also told subordinates to convey to other White House aides that he cares about domestic violence,” the Post added.
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