The administration official reportedly did not have full security clearance.
A top White House official is stepping down after reports from his ex-wives that say he was emotionally and physically abusive, according to the Washington Post. The scandal raises questions about how White House staff secretary Rob Porter was able to either get a security clearance or do his sensitive job without it.
The Intercept reported that the FBI learned of the domestic violence allegations against Porter last year during a security clearance background check. CBS News and Politico reported that Porter never had a full clearance.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said in a statement.
He then added that he will “seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House,” indicating he would not be leaving the administration immediately.
Trump aide Rob Porter's full statement. He's resigning over allegations about aggressive behavior with women in the past, but not leaving the WH immediately. pic.twitter.com/chrM6lm0pW— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 7, 2018
Porter might not have been a high-profile name in President Trump’s White House, but he worked closely with Chief of Staff John Kelly to vet and decide what was sent to the president’s desk. Porter previously worked as the chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) before joining the administration at the start of Trump’s tenure.
The firestorm around Porter began late Tuesday after the Daily Mail published a story saying that Porter — who is reportedly now dating White House communications director Hope Hicks — had been abusive toward his two ex-wives.
Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Daily Mail that she was “walking on eggshells” during their marriage and that she had filed an order of protection against Porter in 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and punched a glass door in their home. (The couple married in 2009; they divorced in 2013.)
Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, told the Daily Mail that Porter “was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive and that is why I left.” Holderness, who married Porter in 2003, also provided photos that showed her with a black eye, which she said happened after Porter punched her in the face in a Florence hotel room around 2005. (She also provided the photos to the Intercept.)
“Up until then, he had always done it in a way that didn’t leave marks,” Holderness told the Intercept about the alleged incident in Florence. “I don’t know if that was conscious or not. He would get angry and throw me down on a soft surface — to his credit, it was always a soft surface like a couch or a bed — and he would lay on top of me shaking me, or rubbing an elbow or a knee into me. He graduated to choking me, not ever hard enough to make me pass out, or frankly to leave marks, but it was frightening and dehumanizing.”
The White House had expressed support for Porter when allegations emerged on Tuesday, before he announced his resignation.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him,” Kelly said in a statement.
Hatch, Porter’s former boss, originally called the story “a vile attack on such a decent man.” After Porter’s resignation, he issued a new statement that said, in part, “I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable.”
After the WH released a stmt from @senorrinhatch calling reports about his former Chief of Staff Rob Porter "a vile attack on such a decent man," Hatch has released this new stmt saying "Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable." pic.twitter.com/KYj16ji1zb— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 7, 2018
There are also questions about Porter’s security clearance
The domestic violence allegations also raise serious questions about how Porter rose to such an influential position in the White House.
The Intercept reported Wednesday that the FBI was aware of the abuse allegations against Porter, which they uncovered during a background check for security clearance. The bureau interviewed both ex-wives during the check, and Holderness — Porter’s first wife — told the Intercept she’d sent the FBI the photo of herself with a black eye, which she said happened after Porter hit her in Florence.
A federal law enforcement source also confirmed to CBS News that the FBI was aware of the abuse allegations after the background review. Per CBS News: “That information was passed on to the White House.”
A senior administration official also told Politico that Kelly was aware of a 2010 protective order against Porter, which in fact prevented him from getting full security clearance. Two sources also told CBS News’s Major Garrett that Porter had not obtained full security clearance, primarily because of the allegations against him.
“As has always been our policy, we do not comment on security clearances,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Rob Porter has been effective in his role as staff secretary. The President and Chief of Staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”