WASHINGTON — The White House’s explanation of how allegations of domestic abuse against a top aide failed to significantly affect his security clearance evolved again Tuesday as it shifted blame to an internal personnel security office.
The move came hours after the head of the FBI appeared to publicly contradict the administration’s previous defense.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday the "White House personnel security office" — the administration's first reference to that office — did not fully pass FBI reports about those allegations to top West Wing aides because staffers had not yet made a final recommendation on Porter's security clearance.
Earlier this week, the White House had said they had failed to act on the allegations because the FBI's background investigation into Porter, the former White House staff secretary, had still been ongoing.
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FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday morning that the bureau had alerted the White House to the information on multiple occasions, and closed their file on Porter last month.
"We administratively closed the file in January, and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well," Wray said while testifying to the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday morning.
Asked about the apparent contradiction between the White House's previous and current explanations, Sanders said both were accurate.
The FBI portion of the investigation was closed in January, she said, but the "White House personnel security office, who is the one that makes a recommendation for adjudication...had not made their recommendation to the White House" because "the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned" last week.
Asked if anyone in the office had communicated with anyone in the West Wing about the circumstances surrounding Porter's clearance when the FBI began submitting reports mentioning the allegations against him nearly a year ago, Sanders said she was "not aware of any communication," but couldn't "say definitively" whether that meant top White House officials such as Chief of Staff John Kelly had been completely unaware of that information.
The White House didn't respond Tuesday to further questions about the internal office Sanders had pointed to, including the leadership of the staff, though they did provide its alleged location within the complex.
The scandal stretched into its seventh day Tuesday, with questions still swirling about who knew what, when and how Trump might ultimately react to the latest controversy engulfing his administration.
NBC News reported last week that Trump was angry at Kelly and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks for their handling of the crisis — so much so that he had even been openly musing about replacements for Kelly, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Sanders said Tuesday that Trump had confidence in his chief of staff.