The Trump White House Still Can’t Get Its Story Straight On Rob Porter

Whether it's the abuse angle or the more serious issue of security clearances, the White House still can't get the story straight on the Rob Porter case.

It’s been nine days since we first learned about the allegations against former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who has been accused of abuse by both of his former wives and a former girlfriend, and the White House still can’t get its story straight about what it knew and when it knew it:

WASHINGTON — The White House changed its story on Tuesday about how it handled allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace last week, conceding that the F.B.I. told White House career officials last summer about problems in Mr. Porter’s background check. But members of President Trump’s team said top advisers in the West Wing were kept in the dark.

The White House revised its version of events after testimony on Capitol Hill from the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, contradicted earlier and shifting claims from the West Wing.

At a previously scheduled Senate hearing on Tuesday about threats against the United States, Mr. Wray, in response to a question about Mr. Porter, said the F.B.I. had given the White House final results in January of its background investigation into the former staff secretary. Mr. Wray’s account was directly at odds with previous assertions by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, and other White House officials who said Mr. Porter’s background check was still underway when the domestic violence abuse allegations from his two former wives came to light last week in news reports.

Mr. Wray’s words strongly suggested that Mr. Porter, who had been given an interim security clearance, was allowed to continue serving in his influential post in the West Wing long after officials had received word of the troublesome accusations. Three officials confirmed late Tuesday that the practice of giving interim security clearances to new hires in the White House was halted last fall by Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. Politico first reported the change.

Mr. Wray’s testimony also raised questions about the credibility of Mr. Trump’s most senior advisers and the degree of tolerance they may have shown to a colleague apparently eager to cover up a past.

According to Mr. Wray, the F.B.I. updated the White House three times in 2017 — in March, July and November — about Mr. Porter’s background check as it progressed. Mr. Wray did not disclose the information that was given to the White House at those times, but according to two people briefed on the matter, the F.B.I. first provided the White House in July with a rundown of the spousal abuse allegations the bureau had uncovered against Mr. Porter.

In November, the F.B.I. provided the White House with additional information about the allegations.

Ms. Sanders insisted Tuesday that senior West Wing officials had not learned about the allegations against Mr. Porter until they surfaced in The Daily Mail because the F.B.I. gave the information to the White House Personnel Security Office, which handles security clearances. The office is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House and is overseen by Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff.

Ms. Sanders said that the security office — which she repeatedly noted was staffed by “career officials,” who would not have been appointed by Mr. Trump — had not yet made a final determination on whether Mr. Porter should receive his security clearance at the time of The Mail’s article.

Still, pressed on whether senior officials — including John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel; and Mr. Hagin — could have been unaware as far back as last summer that such a significant issue had been raised about one of the president’s closest aides, she conceded she could not be certain.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Ms. Sanders said. “I can’t say with 100 percent certainty.”

According to the two people briefed on the matter, the White House security office reviewed the allegations about Mr. Porter in July and saw that the F.B.I. had interviewed Mr. Porter’s two former wives but not Mr. Porter himself. The office asked the F.B.I. to go back and do so, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

In November, the F.B.I. provided another report to the security office, the two people said, adding that at that point, a final review began to determine whether to grant Mr. Porter a security clearance. As part of that review, three officials in the personnel office, including its head, were supposed to come to their own conclusions about whether to grant the clearance, the people said.

By the time The Mail published its article last week, only one of those officials had made a determination, the two people said, although it is not clear what the official had concluded.

There are two aspects to this story, but the real story involves how the White House has responded to all of this and what that says about the manner in which this White House is being run from top to bottom.

The most attention-grabbing aspect of the story, of course, are the abuse allegations that have been made against Porter by his two ex-wives, both of whom have gone public with their stories, and by a former girlfriend who has chosen to remain anonymous. These charges are serious enough that Porter was the subject of a Protective Order obtained by one of his ex-wives after he tried to physically confront her at the apartment she lived in after their separation. They were also serious enough to leave behind physical evidence in the form of a black eye depicted in a photograph that was given to the press by his first wife. For his part, Porter has denied the allegations and now claims that his first wife’s black eye was due to a household accident. When the reports of Porter’s abuse first surfaced in the press, the White House essentially backed up Porter’s initial denials, and Chief of Staff John Kelly even went so far as to issue his own statement in which he called Porter an honorable man with high ethical standards and a strong work ethic. That position took a sharp turn, though, when the aforementioned pictures from Porter’s first wife, were made public. At that point, the story quickly started to fall apart, and things just went downhill from there.

Since then, we’ve gone through a variety of attempted explanations by the White House in which both Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her deputy Raj Shah have attempted to explain what the White House in general, and Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGhan specifically, knew about the allegations against Porter and how they responded to it. Initially both Sanders and Shah said that McGahn and Kelly both didn’t know the details of the charges until the time they hit the press nearly two weeks ago. That story didn’t sound credible to begin with, and has not stood up against the evidence that has come out over the past nine days, including yesterday’s testimony from F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray. Now, the White House is blaming the employees at the White House office responsible for evaluating the Bureau reports prepared as part of the security clearance process. Given the fact that this office is located in the Old Executive Office Building directly adjacent to the White House and that it reports directly to the Deputy Chief of Staff whose office is right next door to Kelly’s, this also fails to withstand credulity. Instead, what seems to be clear is that the White House was aware of the allegations against Porter perhaps as early as January 2017, and in no case no later than July of last year, and that it failed to do anything in response, essentially giving Porter a pass.

Given the response that we’ve seen from the President to the reports about Porter’s abuse against the women in his life, this is hardly surprising. While Sanders has said that the President has allegedly said in private that his he finds Porter’s actions deplorable, his public statements have been quite the opposite. Instead of deploring the conduct of his former employee and expressing sympathy for the women he victimized, President Trump lavished praise on his former Staff Secretary and complaining about a lack of “due process” for men accused of abusive behavior toward women. This, of course, is entirely consistent with the way Trump has reacted to similar complaints against people close to him such as of Roger AilesBill O’ReillyCorey Lewandowski, and Roy Moore, as well as his reaction to the allegations made against him by nineteen women after the release of the Access Hollywood tape. Given that history, it’s no surprise that Trump won’t publicly condemn Porter and why his White House keeps falling over itself to explain what happened.

Over and above the abuse allegations, of course, is the fact that Porter was employed for more than a year in a position that gave him access to some of the most sensitive information that the United States Government holds. This happened despite the fact that, like as many a 40 other White House employees, he had failed to qualify for a security clearance yet and was only operating on an interim clearance. Additionally, if the reports about when the White House was made aware of the charges against Porter are accurate then it seems clear that officials were aware that his application for a security clearance would be denied based on the aforementioned allegations and they let him continue in his job anyway. This is quite obviously a serious problem that goes beyond the Porter case itself and concerns a whole host of people who have daily access to classified material and yet lack the final security clearances they are supposed to have, a group that includes Senior Presidential Adviser and Presidential Son-In-Law Jared Kushner. The problem is serious enough that the House Oversight Committee has already opened an investigation into the matter, and it’s likely that we’ll also see an investigation on the Senate side as well, most likely from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Even at it’s most benign this story is revealing yet again just how incompetent the White House seems to be at management and employee discipline, as well as how cavalier the Administration is when it comes to allegations of abuse by White House employees and, most importantly, the handling of classified information. The last point, of course, is ironic given the fact that Trump spent the Presidential campaign repeatedly hitting Hillary Clinton over the allegation that she mishandled classified information while serving as Secretary of State. At the very least, there’s no small degree of hypocrisy here. At it’s worsst we’re dealing with actual threats to national security due largely to incompetence and disinterest at the highest levels of the White House. This isn’t over yet, folks.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I always tell the truth. You know why? First because I had to lie a lot, for a long time, and I got sick of it. And second because it is so much easier. Lying is hard. Lying requires imagination, acting skills, and a decent memory. Telling the truth is no trouble at all.

    Unless of course you’re guilty.

    Kelly lied. Full stop. He lied to protect a wife beater. He lied to protect a wife beater because he was desperate to hold onto anyone remotely competent because no one but a fool would work for Kelly in the Trump White House. Porter was the big baby’s reliable back-up babysitter for when the general just needed some alone time.

    Now who’s going to babysit?

    The Trump Crime Family is like the comic relief part of a Cops episode. Heh, heh, look at this dumb hick who tried to rob an ATM and got his tongue stuck in the card slot. It’s funny when criminals are stoopid. Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do? Well, go to prison most likely.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    We are watching the crumbling of the illusion that Trump could retain competent people in his orbit. He is a lazy, shiftless, gutter-moralled, preening has-been, and one who will betray associates, friends and families for reasons much, much less than personal enrichment. He has literally betrayed people who worked for him because he liked the sound of what he was saying. So this bizarre notion that we could have people in his orbit that were a) decent and b) first rate was just a fairy story Republicans told themselves to feel better about the devastation their idiocy and vindictiveness is visiting on our country.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s funny when criminals are stoopid

    There is an episode of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” (a humorous NPR quiz show based on real news events), that describes the escapades of a hapless crime gang that got caught mid-robbery because their duck started quacking. Yes, their duck. It’s as bizarre a medley of stoopid as you can imagine and I remember listening to it the first time and laughing so hard I was crying.

    That’s the Trump administration in a nutshell.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Yep. I’ve been in two jails. Neither had a MENSA chapter.

  5. pylon says:

    The best people…

  6. Kathy says:

    How come this moron keeps surviving a series of scandals, of which a single one would have sunk just about anyone else?

  7. MBunge says:

    Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s poll numbers continue to rise.

    In case you are wondering, those three polls at the top put Trump basically at the same popularity level that Obama had for FIVE of his eight years in office… and that’s with the news media giving him 95% negative coverage.

    Don’t say you were never warned.


  8. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: If you’re trying to say that the people who support Trump think his behavior is perfectly fine, yah, we know that.

    I suspect that a lot of them are wife-beaters as well.

  9. Lynn says:

    @michael reynolds: “Yep. I’ve been in two jails. Neither had a MENSA chapter.”

    The prison I worked in had some who probably qualified for MENSA; unfortunately, they tended to be the child molesters … and mental health clerks.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    the news media giving him 95% negative coverage

    um…because 95% of what he does is fvcked up. Only you sycophants can’t see it because you are victims of the con.
    And even with his polls going up…he still the most unpopular president ever. Not to mention incompetent.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Because his cult drones are without morality, ethics or common decency, and the billionaires got their tax cut. Are billionaires happy? Yes. Are the racists, woman-haters and rage-o-holics happy? Yes. Then all is just fine with Republicans.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    So someone convinced Trump to go out and say he thought wife beaters were bad. Anyone want to take a bet that he will stew in resentment at looking weak for 12-48 hours and then unleash a vicious tirade on someone via twitter? It seems to be his pattern.

  13. drj says:


    How come this moron keeps surviving a series of scandals, of which a single one would have sunk just about anyone else?

    Trump knows one thing very well:

    I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.

    Valued commenters such as MBunge and Jake illustrate this point almost perfectly, of course.

    A bit of background:

    [In a 2011 study] white evangelical Protestants were the least forgiving. Sixty-one percent said such a politician could not “behave ethically,” twice the 30 percent who felt that such a politician could manage it. […]

    Five years later, in October, 2016, P.R.R.I. asked the same question. The percentage of white evangelical Protestants who said that a politician who commits an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically shot up from 30 to 72 percent. The percentage saying such a politician could not serve ethically plunged from 63 to 20 percent.

    What happened in the interim? The answer is obvious: the advent of Donald Trump.


    Those most willing to adjust their positions on ten issues ranging from abortion to guns to taxes are firm Republicans, Trump loyalists, self-identified conservatives and low information Republicans.

    The Barber-Pope study suggests that for many Republicans partisan identification is more a tribal affiliation than an ideological commitment.

    In other words, the only principles hardcore Republicans tend to live by are “us good, them bad” and “we win, you lose.”

    Or, to phrase it a bit more generally, to quite a few people(*) concepts such as “truth” and “ethics” have no intrinsic value whatsoever. These concepts can and will be employed opportunistically, of course, for the good of the “tribe” so to speak, but those who do so have no real commitment to the principles they espouse.

    (*) Republicans here and now, but also, e.g., committed communists in the old Soviet Union.

  14. Kathy says:

    Given the Access Hollywood tape, his support of sexual abusers, and now his support of a wife-beater, would it be out of line to ask trump whether he has physically and/or sexually abused any of his wives?

  15. Kathy says:

    @drj: I think the answer is plainly obvious: Trump is unashamed of his prejudices, be they sexual or racial.And that’s what his base and his enablers value.

  16. Kylopod says:


    In case you are wondering, those three polls at the top put Trump basically at the same popularity level that Obama had for FIVE of his eight years in office…

    That isn’t much to write home about. Obama’s approval ratings tended to be relatively mediocre–though they stayed in a fairly narrow range. They never sank below the high 30s (Trump, Clinton, Reagan, and both Bushes did), but they were stuck in the 40s through much of his presidency. They rose to the low 50s in time for his reelection, and to the high 50s by the time he left office.

    Trump is a true anomaly because he was elected with the worst favorability ratings ever recorded for any presidential candidate in history, winning or losing. (CNN’s exit polls found 38% of voters with a favorable opinion of him, 60% unfavorable.) He’s the first president ever to enter office with Gallup job approval below 50%. In fact, every job approval poll I’m aware of gave him less than 50% to start except Rasmussen, and even Rasmussen’s sank below 50% after a couple of months.

    His job approval ratings have risen recently, but they’re still pretty awful: 41.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove according to RCP. In contrast, Obama’s RCP at this point (mid-Feb. 2010) was 47.8% positive, 45.9% negative. And his party went on to lose 63 seats in the House that November. This is not as much of a boasting point as you think it is.

  17. CSK says:


    Ivana said he raped her. Michael Cohen said: “You cannot rape your spouse.”

  18. Mikey says:


    In other words, the only principles hardcore Republicans tend to live by are “us good, them bad” and “we win, you lose.”

    You left out “fvck you, I got mine.”

  19. al-Ameda says:


    Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s poll numbers continue to rise.

    Of course they might be rising.
    American are coming to realize that there’s a lot to like about a vindictive narcissist.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: A little more detail on Trump’s attack on his wife, Ivana:

    Ivana Trump’s assertion of “rape” came in a deposition—part of the early ’90s divorce case between the Trumps, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.

    The book, by former Texas Monthly and Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III, described a harrowing scene. After a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot, Donald Trump confronted his then-wife, who had previously used the same plastic surgeon.

    “Your fucking doctor has ruined me!” Trump cried.

    What followed was a “violent assault,” according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.

    “Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault,” Hurt writes. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’”

    Following the incident, Ivana ran upstairs, hid behind a locked door, and remained there “crying for the rest of night.” When she returned to the master bedroom in the morning, he was there.

    “As she looks in horror at the ripped-out hair scattered all over the bed, he glares at her and asks with menacing casualness: ‘Does it hurt?’” Hurt writes.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    Can someone rescue my comment from the moderation queue?