F.B.I. Letter Casts Further Doubt on White House’s Rob Porter Timeline
Mr. McGahn, the official said, was busy at the time juggling the Supreme Court confirmation process for Neil M. Gorsuch, the selection of appeals court judges and the vetting of numerous cabinet nominees.
“Don never saw it,” the official said, insisting on anonymity to describe internal procedures. “The right people never saw it.”
White House officials initially claimed that the West Wing had not received an F.B.I. report in March on Mr. Porter — and that any such information would only have been provided to the personnel security office, which is staffed by career officials. Two people briefed on its contents previously said that the March report contained only basic employment information about Mr. Porter, not allegations of abuse.
The F.B.I.’s attempt to inform Mr. McGahn of damaging information about Mr. Porter was described in an April 13 letter from Gerald Roberts Jr., the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s security division, to Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the oversight panel, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat. The Times obtained a copy of the letter.
Mr. Porter’s former wives have said the F.B.I. interviewed them about their abuse claims in January 2017. Mr. Porter himself also alerted Mr. McGahn that an aggrieved ex-wife was making potentially damaging accusations about him, according to a person familiar with the discussion. Mr. Roberts’s letter says that in August, the bureau received a request from the White House personnel security office for additional information on Mr. Porter, “including, but not limited to, re-interviews of Mr. Porter, his ex-wives and his girlfriend at the time.”
In November, the F.B.I. gave the White House another report, Mr. Roberts wrote, “which contained additional derogatory information.”
The F.B.I.’s timeline is at odds with the one given by top officials including John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, who acknowledged in March that he had stumbled in his response to the allegations against Mr. Porter but insisted that he had not known of the damaging accusations until the week Mr. Porter left.
Background investigations often uncover derogatory information, and one person familiar with Mr. Porter’s said the allegations of abuse and the circumstances surrounding them were not as clear-cut as they were portrayed to be when they surfaced in the press, making it difficult to discern whether they warranted action. Even though the White House now appears to have known for months about the claims against Mr. Porter, his temporary clearance was never revoked.
The White House’s contention that Mr. McGahn never saw the original F.B.I. report comes as it is facing fresh questions about its process for vetting personnel for top posts in Mr. Trump’s administration, after Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician who was his pick to be the secretary of veterans affairs, withdrew on Thursday amid damaging allegations that he drank on the job, overprescribed medication and presided over a hostile work environment.
Like Dr. Jackson, Mr. Porter was among a small circle of senior officials who spent their days in proximity to Mr. Trump. As staff secretary, Mr. Porter handled the reams of sensitive documents that flow through the president’s office daily. The allegations against him were one reason he could not obtain a permanent security clearance, and the scandal surrounding his departure highlighted a pattern at the White House of allowing senior officials who had not been given permanent clearance to see classified information to serve in the highest echelons of the White House.
Mr. Kelly has since revised clearance procedures at the White House, stripping interim clearances from some senior officials who had been working with temporary ones for months, most prominently Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Among the changes Mr. Kelly instituted was a new requirement that if the F.B.I. uncovers “significantly derogatory” information about a White House official, it must brief the White House counsel in person on the material. The White House official said Mr. McGahn specifically requested the change to rectify what happened in Mr. Porter’s case, when he felt that he was being held responsible for having information that he had, in fact, never seen.
Mr. Cummings said the new information showed a cavalier attitude at the White House toward granting access to classified information.
“The F.B.I. has now confirmed that it repeatedly provided derogatory information to the White House about Rob Porter as far back as March of 2017,” he said. “But White House officials ignored this information and continued granting Porter access to our nation’s most highly classified secrets — just as they did with Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.”
Mr. Cummings said the White House had refused to give the oversight panel documents it had requested or make staff members available for interviews on the matter, and he criticized Mr. Gowdy for failing to issue subpoenas to obtain the material.
Congressional officials said the White House Counsel’s Office had briefed Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Cummings on April 11, but had declined to give the lawmakers any information about how security clearances had been handled in the past, speaking only about how they would be handled in the future.
News credit : Nytimes