Timeline: Rob Porter, domestic abuse and the White House

The broad outlines of allegations of domestic abuse against former White House aide Rob Porter are clear.

The Trump administration’s shifting explanation of how it dealt with this information is not.

As the trusted staff secretary, Porter handled the flow of paperwork that came to President Donald Trump starting in January 2017. As part of the normal security clearance process, the FBI spoke to two of Porter’s ex-wives early during his background check. Both women have said they told investigators about physical abuse at Porter’s hands.

The White House first defended Porter when those accounts became public in early February. His resignation left top officials with questions about their internal handling of the information against a trusted aide.

To cut through the spin, we put together a timeline about the Porter matter based on the public record.

Keep in mind that some of the most striking turning points in the narrative stem from news reports that cite only unnamed White House insiders. Reports that White House counsel Donald McGahn knew about the allegations in January 2017 are a good example. So are reports that the FBI flagged certain findings for White House staff in June.

This timeline includes only those events with named sources in either news articles or public transcripts, such as from FBI director Christopher Wray.

January 2017 –  FBI agents interview ex-wives Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby as part of a background screening needed for Porter to secure a permanent security clearance. Holderness said she provided the FBI with photos of the black eye she said Porter gave her during a 2005 vacation in Florence, Italy.

Willoughby said she authorized investigators to obtain a protective order she filed in 2010 after Porter refused to leave her Arlington, Va., apartment, in violation of their separation agreement.

March 2017 –  The FBI submits a partial background report on Porter.

April 2017 –  Willoughby writes on her personal blog about why she stayed in an abusive relationship, but doesn’t name Porter.

Late July 2017 –  The FBI completes its background investigation into Porter and delivers it to the White House.

August-November 2017 – According to FBI director Wray, "we received a request for follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November."

January 2018 – The FBI "administratively" closes its file on Porter.

February 2018 – The FBI, Wray said, "received some additional information, and we passed that on" to the White House.

Feb. 6, 2018 – The Daily Mail publishes Willoughby’s account of her relationship with Porter. During one argument, Willoughby said she walked away to take a shower. "He was not done fighting with me," she said. "It was a glass shower door, he opened it and dragged me by my shoulders out of the shower to yell."

The article includes a denial from Porter and quotes his boss, White House chief of staff John Kelly, saying, "'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."

Feb. 7, 2018 – The online news website The Intercept publishes a detailed account from Holderness that includes a photo of her with a black eye. "He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face," she said. Holderness and Willoughby tell The Intercept that they spoke to the FBI in January 2017.

The same day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters, "I can tell you that Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance."  

Sanders reads a statement from Porter in which he says he took the photos of Holderness and that the circumstances were "nowhere close to what is being described." He called the matter a "coordinated smear campaign."

Sanders said Porter was resigning, but not immediately, in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Feb. 8, 2018 – White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah tells reporters that Porter’s last day was Feb. 7 and he had "cleared out his stuff." Asked why the White House didn’t act on the allegations earlier, Shah says it was because Porter’s "background investigation was ongoing."

"The background check investigates both the allegations and the denials," Shah said. "The investigation does not stop when allegations comes to light.  It continues to determine the truth."

Feb. 9, 2018  –  Trump praises Porter. "He did a very good job when he was in the White House," Trump said. "And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And, certainly, he’s also very sad."

Feb. 12, 2018 – Sanders tells reporters "we learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening (Feb. 6), and within 24 hours, his resignation had been accepted and announced."

Pressed by reporters to explain why the White House didn’t respond earlier to the allegations, Sanders adds, "This is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House. It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community."

Feb. 13, 2018 – Wray testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, offering a timeline that differs from what the White House had said.

Later that day, Sanders tells reporters that the security clearance process operates within the White House but that there is no contradiction between what the White House has said and Wray’s testimony.

"The White House Personnel Security Office, staffed by career officials, received information last year in what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November," Sanders said. "But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned."

Feb. 14, 2018 – President Donald Trump says, "I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. But now you know it."

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