Controversy over the White House’s handling of a former aide accused of spousal abuse has intensified after the FBI director confirmed that the bureau had flagged problems with the aide’s security clearance as early as March last year.
Rob Porter resigned last week ahead of the expected publication of details in a newspaper about his alleged abuse of two ex-wives. The White House has consistently argued that it was apprised of the abuse allegations only last week, when a picture emerged of one of the alleged victims, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye.
But the FBI on Tuesday disputed this timeline. Appearing at the Senate intelligencecommittee, FBI director Christopher Wray said his agency had submitted a full report, including information about the domestic abuse allegations, to the White House in late July, and sent preliminary information last March, almost a year ago. "I'm quite confident that in this particular incident the FBI followed the appropriate protocol," Mr Wray said.
He added that the White House asked for a follow-up which was completed and resubmitted in November.
Ms Holderness had previously stated that she was interviewed by the FBI as part of Mr Porter's security clearance on January 25th last year, just days after US president Donald Trump's inauguration. The FBI's account of events appears to contradict that of the Trump administration.
"We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening, and within 24 hours, his resignation had been accepted and announced," press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Monday. "The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly."
Over the weekend, Mr Trump tweeted, in apparent reference to Mr Porter: "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?"
A day earlier he said he wished Mr Porter well when he was asked about the matter in the Oval Office. Questions have also been raised about White House chief of staff John Kelly’s handling of the controversy after he publicly defended Mr Porter last week.
Concerns have also been raised about why high-level aides were permitted to work in the White House, with possible access to classified information, without a permanent security clearance. The Trump administration has refused to confirm if Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, has been granted permanent security clearance.
The lengthy questioning of America's top law enforcement officials at the Senate intelligence committee also revealed concerns at the highest level in the US security community about further interference by Russia in the US electoral system. Director of national intelligence Dan Coats told the committee that he expects Russia to meddle in mid-term elections later this year.
"We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States, " he said at the scheduled hearing. "There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations."