White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied on Tuesday that the Trump administration’s account of the background check for a former staffer accused of domestic violence differed from the FBI’s account.
The White House has claimed — in the face of reports that it knew about the domestic violence allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter long before his ouster — that Rob Porter’s background check was ongoing at the time of his resignation.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday told the Senate Intelligence Committee something different: that the FBI had concluded its background investigation before Porter’s resignation.
At a press briefing Tuesday, reading from prepared remarks that she said were based on information from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn, Sanders blamed a middleman: the White House Personnel Security Office.
“The White House Personnel Security Office, staffed by career officials, received information last year on what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November,” Sanders said. “But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned.”
“In the view of Personnel Security Office, the FBI’s July report required significant additional investigatory field work before Personnel Security Office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication,” she continued. “As Director Wray said, information was still coming to the White House Personnel Security Office in February.”
Wray said Tuesday that “the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” and “soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November.” He added: “And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”
A reporter asked Sanders about the White House’s previous claim that it had not received any paperwork marking the end of Porter’s background check — a claim that Wray appeared to contradict.
“That would come through the White House Personnel Security Office, which had not completed their investigation and not passed that information to the White House,” Sanders said, adding: “I think you need to be very clear that there’s multiple groups here. The White House Personnel Security Office, which is staffed by career officials, would have — may have received information, but they had not completed their process and made a recommendation to the White House for adjudication.”
Asked if the White House was “still maintaining that John Kelly really had no idea about these allegations of domestic abuse until this story broke,” Sanders said only that she was providing “the best information I have and that’s my understanding.”
“Did anyone in the White House Personnel Security Office have any communication with anyone in the West Wing about Rob Porter’s clearance between when the FBI started submitting its interim reports?” another reporter asked.
“I’m not aware of any communication,” Sanders said. “I can’t say definitively. But I’m not aware of any communication.”