House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy told CNN Wednesday morning that his committee is looking into how the White House handled domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter.
The media has been on a weeklong feeding frenzy since the Daily Mail posted an exclusive interview with Porter’s second ex-wife claiming he emotionally and verbally abused her during their brief marriage. (The next day, after Porter resigned, the Mail published another exposé, detailing more accusations from Porter’s first wife, including a 2003 photo of her with a black eye, allegedly from him.) Porter has denied the charges, calling them a “coordinated smear campaign” since the tabloid ran an article the week before about his relationship with Trump’s communications advisor, Hope Hicks.
But the fallout is continuing unabated and now Congress is getting involved.
Gowdy blasted both the White House and the FBI for not being more forthcoming about Porter’s employment and security clearance process: “Who knew what, when, and to what extent—those are the questions I think need to be asked, and Congress has a role to play.” This morning, his committee sent letters to FBI Director Christopher Wray and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asking for clarification on apparently conflicting statements by Wray and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about when Porter’s background investigation was completed.
The outrage cycle over the Porter matter quickly shifted from his irrefutable guilt to condemnation of the White House—particularly of Chief of Staff John Kelly—for employing a known abuser. Kelly defended Porter in the first Mail article, calling him a “man of true integrity and honor.” Since the Mail story broke February 6, the Washington Post has published 98 articles and columns targeting Kelly. The day after the allegations appeared, deputy editor Ruth Marcus was already blasting Kelly, claiming—without any proof—that Trump’s chief of staff “knew of the FBI reports.”
Wray’s Contested “Contradiction”
The “they knew!” talking point ostensibly got a boost yesterday when Wray testified on Capitol Hill and answered a question by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about the FBI’s involvement in Porter’s background check. Here’s how it went down:
Wyden: Was the FBI aware of the allegations related to Rob Porter and domestic abuse? And if so, was the White House informed this could affect his security clearance, when were they informed, and who at the White House was informed?
Wray: I can’t get into the content of what was briefed.
Wyden: Were they informed?
Wray: What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July that soon thereafter we received request for follow-up inquiry. We did the follow-up and provided that information in November and we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.
That nebulous answer—perhaps intentionally sly on Wray’s part; after all, this is the same FBI that urged the president not to release the Nunes memo—was enough ammunition for the media to keep shooting at the White House with both barrels.
Even though Wray specifically said he couldn’t divulge the Porter information, reporters and pundits assumed he was talking about the abuse allegations. Without knowing for certain what the FBI brief contained, every major news organization concluded that Wray contradicted the White House and insisted the administration knew about Porter’s ex-wives’ allegations months before. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and NPR suggested the White House was lying in stating that Porter’s security clearance was still ongoing. (The clearance process is a complicated one that can be slow-rolled, as outlined here. )
Mind Readers in the Media
Even the NeverTrumpers got in the act: The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes disingenuously told Fox News that “the White House didn’t take seriously credible allegations of domestic abuse…for the better part of almost a year. And the White House didn’t tell the truth about what transpired as it relates to these allegations.”
Unless Hayes has access to the reports, or is a mind-reader, he has no way of knowing what, if any, of the specific abuse claims were in the partial report. To make that statement with such certainty even after Wray refused to get into the details requires some mega-level hubris.
Further, many in the Blue Checkmark Brigade willfully overlooked Wray’s most compelling remark, that the Bureau received “additional information” this month, which coincides with the timing of the Mail’s series of articles on Porter’s relationships. Here are a few gems:
FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI submitted a partial report on the Rob Porter investigation in March and a completed background investigation in late July. “Soon thereafter we received a request for a follow-up. We did that.” Provided it in November & closed file in January
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) February 13, 2018
FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI submitted a partial report on Rob Porter in March, completed the full report in late July, then received a request for follow-up inquiries, and provided that information in November.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 13, 2018
FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI submitted a partial report on Rob Porter’s background check in MARCH. A completed report in late JULY. Shared follow-up info in NOVEMBER. And closed the file in January.
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) February 13, 2018
But in his interview with Alisyn Camerota on Wednesday, Gowdy upended the media’s collective verdict that the FBI indeed informed the White House about Porter’s past and that top officials were lying about it.
When Camerota, like every other reporter covering this issue, insisted, “we do have those answers” about what the FBI told the White House, Gowdy pushed back: “I’ve got the dates. Do you know what he told them?” (Her reaction to this obvious question is priceless, here at 4:10). “What I want to know from Chris Wray is what, with specificity, did you learn, when did you learn it, and with whom did you share it and when did you share it? I got the dates.” The congressman also said he wants to know what was changed in the four different iterations of Porter’s background check.
Since this scandal has dominated the news and roiled the Trump White House for over a week, the public deserves answers now. It has already resulted in the ouster of one top aide and could destroy the reputation of a four-star general. There is a chance the July report contained damaging complaints about Porter that might have necessitated the November inquiry.
It’s also crucial to find out what is the “additional information” Wray referred to yesterday. Was it the photo of his first wife? (Porter said he took the photo and has a conflicting story of what happened.) Was it the temporary order of protection (four days) his second wife filed against him after he violated their separation agreement? The FBI needs to furnish a detailed timeline complete with what precise information was released to which White House officials.
The Bigger Picture
Of course, there is a more sinister, if not fairly obvious, agenda of #TheResistance. The Democrats are in a political tailspin with sinking poll numbers, incompetent leadership, and a non-existent policy agenda. Trump rolled them in the shutdown showdown, and the benefits of the GOPs tax plan, which didn’t receive one Democratic vote, are now being realized. The Trump-Russia collusion fantasy not only looks like a fool’s errand, but is backfiring in a colossal way, with more damaging information coming out each week about the previous administration’s complicity in trying to subvert a national election and undermine a presidency.
Pushing the “GOP supports abusers!” campaign slogan is the only hope the Democrats, media, and invested NeverTrumpers have to spare their relevance and avoid total humiliation at the polls this November. That’s why you also see folks leveraging the Porter matter to pivot back to Trump and Roy Moore: “Well, of course they protected Porter, Trump grabbed pussies!”
As we learned in 2016, the anti-Trump mob will stop at nothing and spare no one to destroy this administration, the Republican Party, and to win back power. The Porter saga is the latest example of that pernicious strategy.
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