A week after former White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned amid domestic abuse allegations, the Trump administration is still struggling to provide clear answers on who knew what and when. The scandal has rare longevity for the administration, which is used to bouncing from one controversy to the next.
Last week, the Daily Mail reported that Porter's two ex-wives said he was physically and emotionally abusive to them. His first wife, Colbie Holderness, alleged to the Daily Mail that he had punched her during a trip to Florence, Italy, in the early 2000s, and his second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, said she had obtained a temporary protective order against Porter after he allegedly violated their separation agreement.
Porter — whose job required him to handle sensitive and confidential information read by the president — denied the allegations and resigned before he was ever granted permanent security clearance from the FBI or White House. The White House has suggested it learned about all the allegations within the span of a week — but the FBI said it relayed issues in Porter’s background investigation to White House officials at least three times, twice in 2017 and once in January.
What has emerged is a timeline in which White House officials offer contradictory information, leading to a confusing narrative and dribs and drabs of information from the news media. Here’s what the public learned about the scandal, in order:
The Daily Mail reported that White House communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter are romantically involved.
7 p.m.: Porter’s two ex-wives told the Daily Mail he physically and emotionally abused them.
1:33 p.m.: The Intercept reported that Porter’s ex-wives said they were interviewed by the FBI as they looked into Porter’s White House security clearance.
1:45 p.m.: Porter resigned and denied the allegations, calling them “simply false.”
“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. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."
“My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”
1:45 p.m.: Chief of staff John Kelly issued a statement praising Porter.
"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.”
1:45 p.m.: Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying Kelly and President Trump have “full confidence in [Porter’s] abilities and performance” and don’t comment on security clearances.
“As has always been our policy, we do not comment on security clearances. 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,” she said.
“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”
Around 2 p.m.: It’s reported that Kelly was aware of the 2010 protective order Porter’s ex-wife took out against him.
Politico reported, citing a senior administration official, that chief of staff Kelly was aware of the 2010 protective order, which was delaying security clearance.
3:45 p.m.: Sanders said Porter will leave the White House soon, but “it won’t be immediate.”
She did not comment on whether Porter was granted a security clearance.
7 p.m.: CNN reported Hope Hicks helped draft Kelly’s statement supporting Porter.
9:30 p.m.: Kelly issued another statement saying he was “shocked” by the allegations.
"I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter," the statement read. "There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation."
9:30 a.m.: Trump did not respond to shouted questions about Porter.
3:40 p.m.: Deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Kelly became aware of the allegations against Porter on Wednesday, Feb. 7, and President Trump became aware on Tuesday, Feb. 6.
"He was surprised. He, like many of us, did not see that in Rob Porter," Shah answered when asked about President Trump's reaction to the allegations. "He was surprised by it, he was disheartened by it, and he was saddened by it."
He also said during the daily press briefing that Porter was operating on an “interim security clearance” and the background investigation was ongoing.
“He was operating on an interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied, and he resigned,” Shah said.
Shah added that the administration "could have done better" in handling how it responded to allegations of domestic abuse against Porter. "I think it's fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few days in dealing with this situation."
8:15 p.m.: Jennie Willoughby, Porter’s ex-wife, expressed shock on CNN that Porter still has the “support of so many people in the White House.”
10:30 p.m.: It was reported that Kelly knew Porter would be denied a security clearance.
According to Politico, Kelly knew “several weeks ago” that Porter would be denied a permanent security clearance.
“He knew it was a problem having people who would never be granted permanent clearances and he was preparing to deal with it. And this blew up in his face,” a senior administration official said.
11 p.m.: The Washington Post reported that Porter expressed concern to White House counsel Donald McGahn in January 2017 that his former wives would make damaging allegations to the FBI.
McGahn said that, a year ago, Porter did not tell him his ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. McGahn said he only knew about “damaging accusations” but did not ask what they were because Porter said they were untrue.
11 p.m.: One of Porter’s ex-girlfriends contacted McGahn in November 2017, the Washington Post reported.
The ex-girlfriend told McGhan that he should investigate the abuse alleged by the ex-wives. McGahn did not act on the ex-girlfriend’s call, according to the Post.
McGahn was informed in September 2017 that the allegations of abuse were delaying Porter’s security clearance and passed this information to Kelly in the fall, the Post reports.
12:55 p.m.: President Trump defended Porter.
Trump made his first public comments on the incident, saying, “it’s a tough time for” Porter.
"He also, as you probably know, says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that," Trump said. "He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well; he did a very good job when he was at the White House."
1 p.m.: Kelly instructed staff on Feb. 9 to say Porter had been thrown out of the White House 40 minutes after he learned of the allegations, according to the Washington Post.
Kelly’s statement contradicted his previous supportive statement. It also contradicted the line from the White House that Porter resigned from his position.
3 p.m.: Vice President Mike Pence said he was “appalled” by the allegations.
“The time that he resigned was the first time I became aware of the allegations of domestic abuse,” he told NBC News in an interview from Pyeongchang.
"There is no tolerance in the White House, no place in America for domestic abuse," Pence said. "That being said, I think the White House has acknowledged that they could have handled it better."
5:13 p.m.: Kelly reportedly said he’s willing to resign over the Porter scandal, the New York Times reported.
10:30 a.m.: Trump tweeted that lives are "being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation."
"Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation," he tweeted. "Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"
3:50 p.m.: Sanders, at the daily press briefing, contradicted reports that Kelly had ordered Porter fired within 40 minutes of learning about the allegations.
Instead, Sanders said Porter’s resignation had been accepted within 24 hours after the White House “learned of the extent of the situation.”
Sanders also said Porter’s background investigation is ongoing.
“The White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check,” she said.
Sanders also failed to say whether Trump believes Porter’s ex-wives.
"I just said the president along with the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be thoroughly investigated, and above all, the president supports the victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process," Sanders said.
5:40 p.m.: Porter told senior White House officials “hours after allegations of domestic abuse came to light” that his first ex-wife bruised her face after the couple struggled over a Venetian glass vase, ABC News reported.
Two sources told ABC News that Porter said his ex-wife “was ready to throw glass onto the floor to smash and they both lunged for the glass and there was a struggle.”
His former wife bruised her eye when she fell during the struggle, Porter said according to ABC News.
5 a.m.: Sanders set up an off-the-record meeting between Porter and four reporters for him to defend himself following the Daily Mail report.
According to Politico, the White House press secretary arranged an off-the-record meeting with reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Axios.
It is unclear if Kelly knew the meeting was taking place.
Later in the day Politico reported that during the meeting, Porter blamed his ex-wife’s black eye on a fall and admitted he called his second wife “a fucking bitch.”
Morning: FBI Director Chris Wray contradicted White House statements and said the agency passed a partial report to the White House about problems in Porter’s background check in March 2017.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wray did not say what was in the agency’s inquiry.
The complete background investigation — including claims of domestic abuse — was delivered to the White House at the end of July 2017. Responding to a “follow-up inquiry,” the FBI confirmed it had given additional information on Porter’s background to the White House in November 2017, Wray said.
Wray said that Porter’s background check was “administratively closed” in January 2018 — contradicting claims coming out of the White House that the investigation was “ongoing” when the abuse allegations were reported in the Daily Mail.
Wray added that, while the investigation was closed, the FBI received “some additional information,” which it passed on to the White House.
“I’m quite confident that, in this particular instance, the FBI followed existing protocols,” Wray said.
12:32 p.m.: CNN reported Porter had been up for a promotion before resigning.
Porter was being considered for a promotion — including possibly taking over as the deputy chief of staff — before resigning last week, CNN reported.
A source told CNN that Kelly “definitely wanted to expand his role.”
1:31 p.m.: It was reported that Kelly said the White House had handled the Porter situation correctly.
“It was all done right,” Kelly said the day before, on Monday, Feb. 12, of the White House’s handling of the situation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
3 p.m.: Sanders said Wray’s testimony about the FBI investigation does not contradict the administration’s account — because the White House personnel security office investigation had not concluded.
She said the personnel security office was still reviewing information provided by the FBI when Porter resigned and had not made a final recommendation to the administration on whether he would receive security clearance.
She said the personnel security office had not passed along any information from the FBI to the West Wing.
She went on to say that she is unaware of Porter having been up for a promotion before resigning.
8:25 a.m.: The House Oversight Committee opened an investigated into the White House's handling of Porter, chairman Trey Gowdy said.
Chairman Gowdy told CNN the House Oversight Committee opened an investigation on Feb. 13.
"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have," Gowdy said. "You can call it official. You can call it unofficial. Those words don't mean anything to me. What means something to me is 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."
12:55 p.m.: Pence said the White House could have handled the Porter situation better.
During an event with Axios, the vice president said the administration has no tolerance for domestic violence.
"I think the White House could have handled this better," Pence said.
When asked if he believes Kelly should stay at the White House, Pence praised the chief of staff for doing "a remarkable job," adding that he looks "forward to continuing to work with him for many, many months to come."
2:30 p.m.: President Trump condemned domestic violence in general terms, more than a week after the Porter allegations surfaced.
"I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn't even have to be said," Trump said.
Trump faced criticism last week when he defended his former staff secretary after the aide resigned.
1:55 p.m.: Rob Porter knew his clearance was delayed over concerns he was "violent" in September, CNN reported.
Porter's ex-wife Jennie Willoughby told CNN that Porter called her in September to express concern that his clearance was "delayed."
"When I asked him how he knew that, he told me that people who were involved in the background check let him know it was being delayed — and that one of the concerns was that he was 'violent,'" Willoughby told CNN. "So, he was asking me if I had used that word with the FBI and if Colbie [Holderness] had used that word."
3:30 p.m.: Chief of staff Kelly orders an overhaul of the White House security clearance process.
In a five-page memo titled "Improvements to the clearance process," Kelly writes that the events of the past 10 days "have exposed some remaining shortcomings" in the process, adding that "we should — and in the future, must — do better."
The memo is addressed to White House Counsel Donald McGahn and National security advisor H.R. McMaster. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray are copied on the memo.
Kelly called for several changes to be implemented including, working with the FBI to reduce the time it takes the FBI to notify the White House of "significant derogatory information."
"Going forward, the goal of receiving a briefing regarding significant derogatory information about senior staff is within 47 hours of discovery," Kelly writes.
Read the full memo here.
12:45 p.m.: Chief of staff Kelly says he has nothing to consider resigning over.
Kelly said he first heard of accusations against Porter on Feb. 6, adding that he did not know one the allegations included physical violence when he issued a statement supporting him.
Speaking to reporters, Kelly said he believed the accusation amounted to a messy divorce when he accepted Porter’s resignation calling him "a man of true integrity and honor."
“At that point in time, I thought that statement was accurate,” Kelly said Friday.
Once Kelly learned about the accusation of physical violence later that same day, he “made sure [Porter] knew he had resigned.”
“We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning; it was confusing,” Kelly said, adding that he has “absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over.”
The New York Times had previously reported that Kelly said was willing to resign over the scandal.
Daily Mail US political editor David Martosko tweeted that Kelly's statement saying the first accusation was of only "emotional abuse" is untrue.
"We told the White House that Jennifer Willoughby claimed he physically dragged her, naked, out of a shower," he tweeted. Martosko also tweeted that the Daily Mail approached the White House about the photos of the black eye until the morning of Feb. 7.
Kelly also said he found out last September how many people were working in the White House with interim security clearance, adding that it was “more people than I was comfortable with.”
Kelly's statements on Friday contradict previous reporting from CNN and CBS that the FBI told Kelly about allegations of domestic abuse involving Porter in November. They also contradict a previous statement from White House spokesperson Raj Shah, who said Kelly became "fully aware" of the allegations on Feb. 7.
4:30 p.m.: The New York Times reports the FBI gave information about Porter's alleged spousal abuse to the White House Counsel in March 2017.
The FBI gave Congress a detailed timeline of the Porter events, indicating that a file the bureau gave to the White House in March 2017 included the allegations of domestic abuse, the New York Times reported.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating how Porter received security clearance given the allegations from his ex-wives. In a letter to the leaders of the committee the FBI said that it sent Donald McGhan a "partial report" that included "derogatory information," according to the Times.
A former federal law enforcement official told the Times that the allegations of domestic abuse were included in that file.
The FBI then sent a more complete report to the White House in July 2017.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had previously said that the personnel security office was still reviewing information the FBI sent over at the time Porter resigned and that the information had never reached the West Wing.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at email@example.com.
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