House panel demands White House answers on ousted aide Rob Porter

Porter (left) walking with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in August 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A congressional committee has opened an investigation into the security vetting of a top White House aide who resigned in disgrace last week over domestic abuse allegations, the panel's Republican chairman said on Wednesday (Feb 14).

Rob Porter, President Donald Trump's staff secretary, held the sensitive post with an interim security clearance, even though red flags had been raised in an FBI background check that concluded in July.

In letters to the White House chief of staff and the director of the FBI, House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy asked how the security clearance process was applied in Porter's case.

"The committee is investigating the policies and procedures by which interim security clearances are investigated and adjudicated within the executive branch, and the extent to which any security clearance issued to Porter comported with those policies and process," Gowdy wrote to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Porter's boss.

In his letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Gowdy asked whether the FBI "played any role in the adjudications of Porter's interim and final clearances," and if so whether they were consistent with bureau policy.

The investigation was launched hours after Wray contradicted the White House by telling a Senate committee Tuesday that the FBI gave the White House a full background report on Porter in July.

Porter was fired last week after two former wives came forward with allegations that he had abused them during their marriage. The initial report in the Daily Mail included a photograph of one of the women with a black eye.

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The White House has given shifting accounts of when top officials learned of the allegations, bringing intense scrutiny to Kelly's actions.

Gowdy told CNN early Wednesday that he opened the probe late Tuesday.

"I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer. And if they don't answer them, then they're going to need to give me a really good reason," he said.

Gowdy told Wray in his letter that the FBI chief's comments "may contradict" those made by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who said the White House only learned of the claims against Porter when they were reported in the media on February 6.

But the FBI had interviewed both of Porter's former wives last year as part of its background check for his security clearance.

As staff secretary, Porter handled some of the Oval Office's most sensitive materials, which should have made his security clearance a priority after Trump took office in January 2017.

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Some Democrats have said Porter's history could have made him a target of blackmail, and that he should not have held such a sensitive position.

Kelly has struggled to explain why a close Trump aide with that background could have had the clearance to view top secret materials.

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