White House Deputy Press Sec. Refuses to Say Whether COS John Kelly Knew of Rob Porter Abuse Allegations

John Kelly, Rob Porter
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Washington, DC

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah fielded a host of questions during Thursday’s press briefing regarding the departure of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, including allegations of domestic abuse against him and the status of the investigation for his security clearance.

Shah reiterated the White House response that the policy of this and previous administrations is not to comment on security clearances. He then pivoted, noting the “unusual nature” of the situation with Porter and what he called, “a number of false reports floating around.”

On Tuesday evening the Daily Mail published the accounts of two former wives of Porter who accused him of domestic abuse.

The press secretary noted that the incidents being alleged against Porter occurred long before he joined the White House, are best evaluated through the background check process, have been refuted by Porter, and are “serious and disturbing.”

Porter was operating under an “interim” security clearance status while under background investigation and was never denied a security clearance, according to Shah. He later specified that this clearance would have allowed Porter to view classified materials.

Porter resigned before the investigation was completed, and Shah later indicated that the investigation will not be completed, as Porter is no longer employed with the White House. Shah stated that the “tried and true” process was followed “meticulously” and that Porter received no special treatment.

Shah specifically noted that it was Wednesday when Kelly became “fully” aware of the abuse allegations against Porter and when Kelly first saw the pictures of alleged abuse included in reports on the allegations. He would not, however, get into “specifics” about who knew what and when. He later stated that Kelly had not seen the images of alleged abuse prior to the statement that was issued regarding the allegations on Tuesday night.

“I think we all became aware of the news reports that emerged on Wednesday morning and some of the graphic images,” Shah said in response to reporters’ questioning. When asked whether they knew about the allegations back in November, Shah refused to get into those “specifics.”

Shah further responded that the change in early statements from White House senior staff on the allegations related to each commenter’s knowledge of Porter based on working with him. Chief of Staff John Kelly released a recent statement that called the allegations shocking. Asked about the change in response, Shah said the change specifically related to the photos that were released.

When specifically asked if Kelly “did not know” about the multiple domestic violence allegations earlier communicated to the FBI through the background check process, Shah responded:

This is part of an ongoing investigation. We trust the background check process and the Chief of Staff does not get detailed updates about what what may or may not have been alleged. This is a process. It involves thorough investigation and as I went through the process, it involves looking at not just accusations, but denials.

Porter’s last day at the White House was Wednesday.

Shah continued:

I think it’s fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours…er last few days in dealing with this situation, but this was the Rob Porter that I and many others had dealt with…that other officials including the Chief of Staff had dealt with. And the emerging reports were not reflective of the individual who we had come to know.

He later reiterated that a lot of the individuals involved in the White House response to the allegations against Porter, “could have done better.”

Shah added that the President saw the news reports of the allegations against Porter on Tuesday night and received news of the resignation on Wednesday, and “he was saddened by it, saddened for all the individuals involved.”

One reporter asked if other White House staff are currently working under interim security clearances. Shah indicated that he was not permitted to discuss the security clearance process in any more detail than he already had.

Asked specifically if Kelly knew before Tuesday night about some of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter, Shah repeated that he would not get into the “specifics of what may have emerged from the investigation.”

One reporter asked to what extent the White House Communications Director was involved in crafting White House statements in response to the allegations against Porter. Shah again said he would not get into “specifics,” but “all the statements were crafted by a number of Senior White House officials.”

“Any issues regarding [Porter’s] security clearance weren’t made available to the President prior to Tuesday,” Shah said in response to another reporter’s question.

Asked specifically if “anyone recuse[d] themselves from participating,” Shah responded, “the Communications Director did recuse herself from some matters.”

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana 

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