The F.B.I., Domestic Abuse and the White House: A Timeline of the Rob Porter Scandal


Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after accusations of spousal abuse, amassed job titles in multiple Senate offices before joining President Trump’s staff.Published OnCreditImage by Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — For more than a week, the White House has shifted its story about how and when members of the Trump administration learned about the domestic abuse allegations that forced Rob Porter, one of President Trump’s top aides, to resign.

On Tuesday, the director of the F.B.I., Christopher A. Wray, contradicted the latest White House timeline, disclosing that the bureau informed the White House on three separate occasions about the status of the background check into Mr. Porter.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later offered a new timeline, blaming career employees in the White House security office for failing to inform senior West Wing aides of the accusations against Mr. Porter.


Marriage to Colbie Holderness


Mr. Porter married Colbie Holderness weeks after the couple graduated from Harvard University and Wellesley College. She later told The Intercept that while on their honeymoon in the Canary Islands, Mr. Porter kicked her during an argument.


While on vacation in Florence, Ms. Holderness took a photograph of herself with a black eye, which she said was taken shortly after Mr. Porter punched her. After the photos were published in The Intercept, Mr. Porter said in a statement that the images were misleading. “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,” he said.


Mr. Porter and Ms. Holderness divorced.


Marriage to Jennifer Willoughby

Nov. 26, 2009

Mr. Porter married Jennifer Willoughby. During their honeymoon, Ms. Willoughby said, Mr. Porter frequently became angry and yelled expletives at her.

June 19, 2010

Ms. Willoughby filed a protective order against Mr. Porter in an Arlington County, Va., court after saying that he violated their separation agreement, came to their apartment and punched the glass in the door to their home.

November 2013

Mr. Porter and Ms. Willoughby divorced.

December 2016

A woman dating Mr. Porter at the time reached out to Ms. Willoughby and Ms. Holderness, detailing abuse and seeking advice on how to leave him.

“I work in politics, and despite Rob’s repeated abuse, some of which I think many know about, he continues to rise and I’m afraid to go against him,” the woman wrote to Ms. Holderness, according to Facebook messages. “I’m sorry to bother you. I wanted to reach out and hear your story if you are willing to share — as well as how you broke out of it with him and mostly, how you recovered.”


The Background Investigation Begins


On Jan. 20, Mr. Porter became White House staff secretary and assistant to the president for policy coordination. He was responsible for paper flow to the president and was later involved in drafting President Trump’s inaugural State of the Union address.

Mr. Porter told Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, that he was concerned about his former wives coming forward with potentially damaging accusations.

Despite that conversation, the White House granted Mr. Porter an interim security clearance to handle highly classified materials going to the president.

F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Holderness and Ms. Willoughby as part of an investigation for Mr. Porter’s security clearance in the White House, and both women discussed the domestic abuse allegations. In January, Ms. Willoughby said, Mr. Porter sent a mutual friend to speak to her husband, Skiffington Holderness, about the interview.


The F.B.I. delivered to the White House a partial report on problems in Mr. Porter’s background, Mr. Wray told senators Tuesday. Mr. Wray did not detail what was in the report or specify who at the White House received that information.

In its initial explanations of the timeline, the White House did not disclose receiving information from the F.B.I. in March.

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, contradicted the White House timeline in testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.CreditLawrence Jackson for The New York Times

On Tuesday, after Mr. Wray’s testimony, two people briefed on the situation said the information delivered to the White House in March was only basic employment information, not allegations of abuse.

Ms. Sanders said on Tuesday that information from the F.B.I. would have been received by the White House personnel security office. She said she was not aware that anyone at the security office disclosed in March to any official in the West Wing that there were problems with Mr. Porter’s background check.

April 24

Ms. Willoughby published a blog post titled “Why I Stayed,” in which she described an abusive marriage with Mr. Porter, but did not name him. She said Mr. Porter later called her multiple times to demand that she remove the post.

Summer 2017

The F.B.I. Delivers Its Assessment


Mr. Wray testified on Tuesday that the F.B.I. gave the White House “a completed background investigation” in late July. Mr. Wray again declined to say who at the White House the F.B.I. communicated with when they delivered the completed background investigation.

Mr. Wray said that “soon thereafter” the bureau received a request for a “follow-up inquiry” about Mr. Porter’s background investigation. Mr. Wray did not disclose what the follow-up inquiry was, or who made it.

People briefed on the situation said officials at the security office encouraged the F.B.I. to interview Mr. Porter before closing its background investigation.

Ms. Sanders said Tuesday that she was not aware that anyone in the White House security office contacted any senior official in the West Wing about Mr. Porter’s background check issues in July.

However, people briefed on the issue said Mr. McGahn was made aware at the time that there was an issue with Mr. Porter’s background investigation. The White House disputed that assertion, saying that Mr. McGahn was unaware of any problem.

Ms. Sanders said Tuesday that the security office believed that the F.B.I. report in July “required significant additional investigatory fieldwork” before security officials could decide whether to recommend a security clearance for Mr. Porter. They asked the F.B.I. to do more work on it, she said.


According to Ms. Willoughby, White House officials informed Mr. Porter that his security clearance “had not gone through,” as she recalled him saying. She said he told her that “someone had told him that there was a violent allegation and that was what was holding it up.” An F.B.I. agent emailed Ms. Willoughby, asking for permission to gain access to the 2010 restraining order, writing, “in furtherance of the background investigation.”

Fall 2017

Security Office Begins Evaluating Porter


The F.B.I. delivered to the White House the results of the requested “follow-up” to Mr. Porter’s background investigation, according to Mr. Wray.

Two people briefed on the matter said that by November, Mr. Porter had been interviewed by the F.B.I.

Ms. Sanders said Tuesday that the security office received from the F.B.I. in November what it considered to be the “final background investigation report” and began evaluating Mr. Porter’s request for a security clearance.

White House officials and people briefed on the case said the F.B.I. delivered a thick file on Mr. Porter’s background check to the security office and relayed that he was unlikely to succeed in receiving a permanent clearance. They said security office officials encouraged the F.B.I. to complete its investigation so the office could make a final decision on Mr. Porter’s clearance.

Ms. Sanders said she was not aware that anyone in the security office communicated in November to any senior official in the West Wing about problems with Mr. Porter’s background investigation.

But multiple people familiar with the situation have said top officials — including Mr. McGahn; John F. Kelly, the chief of staff; and Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff — learned in November that there were problems with Mr. Porter’s background investigation.

Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel.CreditAndrew Harnik/Associated Press

One person briefed on the situation, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private deliberations, disputes that, saying that Mr. McGahn did not learn of the F.B.I.’s communications to the security office in November.

But people close to Mr. McGahn said that a woman who had been dating Mr. Porter for some time came to Mr. McGahn in mid-November to complain about Mr. Porter. The woman, who knew Mr. McGahn well, was upset because she had discovered that Mr. Porter was also dating Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. The people briefed on the conversation said the woman did not claim physical abuse, but told Mr. McGahn that he should not trust Mr. Porter.

January 2018

Mr. Porter’s background check investigation was “administratively closed,” Mr. Wray said during his testimony Tuesday, weeks before the allegations become public. The bureau “received some additional information” after the file was closed, he said, and passed that on to the White House as well.

Mr. Wray said he was “quite confident” that established protocol was followed.

February 2018

A Public Accounting

Feb. 6

Allegations of physical abuse from Ms. Holderness and Ms. Willoughby, Mr. Porter’s former wives, were published in The Daily Mail. Ms. Hicks worked with other White House officials to draft statements supporting Mr. Porter.

Those statements included one from Mr. Kelly, who described Mr. Porter “a man of true integrity and honor.”

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, at a press briefing in October.CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who once employed Mr. Porter as chief of staff, said in a statement that “the country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.”

Ms. Sanders said Tuesday that the White House security office was still evaluating the results of Mr. Porter’s background investigation, and had not yet come to a conclusion when the allegations against Mr. Porter were published.

Feb. 7

Mr. Porter, despite the support from senior White House officials, announced his resignation. In a statement, he said that “these allegations are simply false,” even as more details and photos said to be a result of the abuse circulated in a new interview published in The Intercept.

Ms. Sanders also issued a statement saying that both the president and Mr. Kelly had “full confidence” in Mr. Porter’s performance. Mr. Kelly released a new statement later that day, around 10 p.m., saying he had been unaware of the allegations against Mr. Porter.

Mr. Hatch, for his part, described himself as “heartbroken” by the new allegations.

Feb. 8

White House officials conceded regrets about how they handled the accusations against Mr. Porter. At a news briefing, Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters that Mr. Kelly had not been aware of the allegations, and that the security clearance investigation into Mr. Porter’s background had been continuing until his resignation.

“His background investigation was ongoing,” Mr. Shah told reporters. “He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”

Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary, was asked on Thursday about the allegations against Mr. Porter.CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

Mr. Kelly told staff members that he had learned the details of Mr. Porter’s situation only “40 minutes before he threw him out” two days earlier. In a memo sent that night, Mr. Kelly wrote: “While we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence very seriously. Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society.”

Feb. 9

Mr. Trump acknowledged the accusations facing Mr. Porter, saying that it was a “tough time” for his former aide. The president added, “He also, as you probably know, says he is innocent, and I think you have to remember that.” Mr. Kelly also told White House officials that he was willing to step down over his handling of the allegations.

That evening, the White House announced that Derek Lyons, another lawyer educated at Harvard Law School and Mr. Porter’s No. 2, had been elevated to acting staff secretary.

Feb. 11

A day after Mr. Trump complained that a “mere allegation” could ruin someone without due process, White House aides fanned out to talk shows to say that Mr. Porter had lied to them and deserved to be pushed out.

Feb. 13

While testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Wray, the F.B.I. director, contradicted the White House timeline and confirmed for the first time that the bureau had given the White House a partial report on problems in Mr. Porter’s background in March. He also said the bureau had closed its investigation in January, though the White House had insisted that it was still continuing well into February.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York.

Michael D. Shear is a White House correspondent. He previously worked at The Washington Post and was a member of their Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. @shearm


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