Like the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served up out of nowhere, in the middle of routine Congressional testimony.
And that’s exactly what FBI Director Christopher Wray did Tuesday when, responding to a question from Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, he blew up White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s alibi in the widening scandal over former staff secretary Rob Porter.
As the Hill reported, Wray offered a “new timeline” of the background check into Porter, who had received a temporary security clearance before his firing, saying the bureau informed the White House of Porter’s history of spousal abuse as early as November,and also in January, shortly after coming across the “new information.” The bureau had formally closed its review of Porter’s security clearance application in July. Investigators had also submitted a partial report into Porter as early as March 2017.
“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed, what I can tell you is the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” he said.
“Soon thereafter we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received additional information and we passed that on as well.”
In other words, the White House was almost certainly aware of Porter’s history before the allegations publicly surfaced. When the news first broke late last week, Kelly defended Porter, calling him “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.”
He quickly changed his tune, saying “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter,” Kelly said. “There is no place for domestic violence in our society” after Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, went public with her accusations against Porter. Her statement included details of domestic battery and verbal abuse on their honeymoon. She backed up her claims with a photo of a black eye she said Porter gave her. That photo has been widely circulated and discussed in the media. Earlier in the day, Porter’s second ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, came forward with her own stories of abuse. Porter is presently rumored to be dating White House Communications Director (and former model) Hope Hicks.
In response to a report by the Washington Post claiming that he and White House Counsel Don McGahn and other West Wing officials knew about Porter’s history, Kelly said he had only just learned of the abuse, and that Porter was shown the door right away. Politico also reported that Kelly was told weeks ago that Porter and several other White House aides would be denied permanent security clearances. He was also reportedly told why.
President Trump is famously intolerant of staff bringing bad press on him and the White House, and Kelly has reportedly offered to resign – though White House officials anonymously told the press they didn’t envision an imminent departure for the chief of staff, who has been credited with bringing order and discipline to the West Wing, and has also gone to bat for Trump several times, famously referring to Congresswoman Federica Wilson as an empty barrel and offering a narrative about her involvement with a local project that was later contradicted.
However, Kelly has been enveloped in several scandals as of late, drawing a public rebuke from his boss from implying that Trump didn’t grasp immigration policy before winning the election, and later drawing negative press by calling Dreamers “lazy.”
Now that he’s been caught lying – virtually guaranteeing another news cycle for the isolated Kelly – we imagine a firing is back in play.
As a reminder, the White House earlier refused to de-classify a memo compiled by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that was seen as an FBI rebuttal to the purportedly exaggerated allegations from the infamous Devin Nunes “FISA Memo.”
Wray has defended the FBI from Republican allegations of partisan interference, even reportedly threatening to resign over White House attempts to push out former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (McCabe effectively resigned early by using the last of his vacation days to run out the clock until his March full benefit eligibility kicks in. Among other candidates, OMB and CFPB Chief Mick Mulvaney has been floated as a potential replacement for Kelly, though Mulvaney has denied the reports.
You’ve got to admit, the timing certainly is curious…