WASHINGTON, U.S. - Amid a controversy that has engulfed the White House for close to two weeks now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) complicated the situation further on Tuesday.
Contradicting claims made by White House aides over the former official and alleged abuser,
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had completed a background report on then-staff secretary Rob Porter last July.
Wray said that the agency had closed out the case entirely last month.
The FBI head’s account is at odds with White House claims that the investigation required for Porter’s security clearance was “ongoing” until he left his job last week.
The White House statement came after two of Porter’s ex-wives publicly alleged physical and emotional abuse.
On Tuesday, following Wray’s sworn testimony, the White House struggled to contain a widening crisis over its handling of the domestic violence allegations - that even led to claims that the Chief of Staff John Kelly had offered to resign over the mishandling.
The White House is facing a further public relations fallout since Trump has his own history of alleged sexual assault.
Further, the President’s seeming reluctance to publicly condemn violence against women and give voice to the national #MeToo reckoning has also led to complications for the White House.
While Trump already delayed his response to the allegations against Porter, even when he made a statement, it was in praise of his former aide, who is alleged to have given one of his former wives, a black eye.
He said, "We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it's a tough time for him. He did a very good job while when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him.”
Adding, “But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he's also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that."
Trump emphasized that Porter, who was forced to resign, had said "very strongly" that he was innocent.
Hour laters, adding to the problems facing the White House, the official speechwriter David Sorensen resigned similarly, over domestic abuse allegations.
Sorensen too has denied his wife's claims.
As the fallout from the scandal engulfed Trump’s inner circle at the White House, reports revealed that Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly had some knowledge about the accusations against his deputy.
Kelly initially called Porter "a man of true integrity and honour” but after visual proof of the domestic abuse cases appeared in the media, Kelly released a new statement saying he was shocked by the claims and stressed domestic violence was unacceptable.
Pressure mounted further on Kelly, who was said to have offered to resign for the poor handling of the controversy.
The former general, who was tasked with bringing military discipline, was questioned for his judgement - especially since Porter’s second wife was said to have obtained a protective order against him in June 2010.
Questions were raised about how Porter received interim security clearance to act as gatekeeper to the U.S. president despite the allegations.
Then, making matters worse, over the weekend, Trump redoubled his measured response to such charges, noting how damaging allegations can be.
Trump tweeted, "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused -- life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"
After Wray’s testimony, Sanders sought to square the conflicting timelines, arguing that even after the FBI closed its investigation, the presidential personnel office was still reviewing Porter’s case when he resigned last week.
Ron Klain, a senior White House aide in the last two Democratic administrations said, “Clearly things happened after the FBI delivered this information to the White House that resulted in Porter’s case just pending for an extended period of time in the personnel office. It was a deliberate decision to let him stay at the White House with this hanging over his head.”