“Fox & Friends” took a shot at the White House on Tuesday morning, when host Brian Kilmeade confronted Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah about the domestic violence allegations against former Donald Trump aide Rob Porter.
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Kilmeade asked Shah about the FBI background checks for White House personnel, saying, “What is going on … that might change the staff this week?” In response, Shah seemed to talk his way around the question, saying that the FBI background checks are “used across agencies” and that “it’s a process that [the White House] trusts.” Kilmeade became slightly flustered by the response, saying bluntly, “You relied upon [the FBI background checks], and you got burned because you had a two-time accused domestic abuser there at a very sensitive position, where perhaps he shouldn’t have been had that been fully exposed. So what changes now?”
Shah denied reports that the FBI contacted the White House about the domestic abuse allegations against Porter, saying, “The FBI would not give a background check investigation directly to senior White House officials. It goes to a security office, where then it’s relayed maybe up the chain, maybe not.” He added that Porter’s background check investigation was still ongoing, saying, “It was still in the investigative process and had yet to be adjudicated. So prior to an adjudication, the White House is not going to step into the middle of a process and short-circuit it. These investigations are complex. They’re lengthy for a reason. We need to get it right.”
The FBI has pushed back on the notion that Porter’s background investigation was ongoing, saying that it was completed in January.
FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI submitted a partial report on Rob Porter's background check in MARCH. A completed report in late JULY. Shared follow-up info in NOVEMBER. And closed the file in January.
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) February 13, 2018
🚨 FBI Director Chris Wray says FBI closed the file on Rob Porter in January.
That contradicts with WH claim: “[Porter’s] background investigation was ongoing” when allegations became public February 6.
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) February 13, 2018
Porter left the White House last week after his two ex-wives Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby came forward to accuse him of spousal abuse. The former staff secretary denied those allegations, and the White House publicly defended him, though insiders told Axios that the president trashed Porter in private.
The revelation that Porter was still operating on a temporary security clearance has brought renewed scrutiny to White House staff members who are in similar situations. One of the most notable names in the West Wing who has not been cleared by the FBI is Jared Kushner. It’s unusual that Kushner’s clearance has taken so long and that he’s been tasked with so many high-level duties without being cleared by the FBI. However, the president’s son-in-law bears some responsibility for the backlog, as he omitted meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the head of a Russian bank when he originally filled out his security forms, and he’s been forced to revise them multiple times.
We still don’t know how many staffers in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. don’t have permanent security clearances, but CNN speculated last week that the number could be as high as 40.