FBI's Wray contradicts White House on Porter background check

By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House version of events surrounding the background check for a former top aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives, increasing pressure on the White House to explain what happened.

Wray, in testimony on Capitol Hill, said the agency completed in late July a background check for security clearance for then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned under pressure last Wednesday amid the abuse allegations.

Wray's comments conflicted with the White House assertion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence agencies had not completed investigations into Porter.

"I'm quite confident that in this particular instance, the FBI followed established protocols," Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee as the White House faced questions over when it learned about the allegations against Porter.

Porter, who has denied the accusations, had been rising in President Donald Trump's inner circle and according to a source familiar with the situation, had been talking to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about a promotion.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended the handling of the background check.

She told reporters on Tuesday that the White House personnel security office, which received the results of the FBI's background check on Porter in July, had requested more "fieldwork" on Porter.

That office received a subsequent FBI report in November, and was still working on his security clearance recommendation when Porter resigned.

SECURITY RISK?

The case has raised questions about how security clearance investigations are handled and whether it was a security risk to have Porter at Trump's side for months after the accusations.

Porter had been operating under a temporary clearance that gave him access to some sensitive information without a final security clearance.

Wray said a partial report on Porter was issued in March and a completed report was submitted in late July. The FBI received a request for a follow-up inquiry, provided it in November and passed along additional information earlier this month.

"Soon thereafter we received a request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and administratively closed the file in January," he said. "Earlier this month, we received some additional information and we passed that on as well."

Asked if the White House had been informed of the allegations against Porter, Wray said: "I can't get into the content."

The White House has yet to outline a detailed timeline on who knew what when in the Porter case.

The extent of what Kelly was told about Porter at the time is unclear. The White House has said Kelly became “fully aware” of the accusations last Wednesday and promptly obtained Porter’s resignation.

On that day, photos were published in a Daily Mail article, showing one ex-wife with a black eye that she said was a result of an altercation with Porter.

One official said Kelly had wondered last autumn why Porter’s clearance was taking so long - along with those of other top officials, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell said he had been told that "there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed like his" and that it was not uncommon for that to happen in a new administration.

Lowell said he was told Kushner's was taking longer than usual because of the extent of his holdings, travels and lengthy submissions, and that "there was no concern about the process or Mr. Kushner’s ability to do his job.”

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)

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