White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the White House’s personnel security office’s investigation into former aide Rob Porter was still underway last week when he resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse, even though she said at Monday’s news briefing the process was handled by law enforcement.
“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.”
That explanation differed dramatically from the one Sanders offered at Monday’s briefing, when she told reporters that the process of issuing a security clearance “doesn’t operate within the White House. It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”
The press secretary also said Monday the clearance process for Porter was "handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community" and that it "hadn’t been completed" when he resigned last week.
Sanders’ Monday account was disputed by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday that the bureau had filed an initial report on Porter last March, finished its background check in July, submitted a follow-up in November and had “administratively closed” the file in January.
On Tuesday, Sanders said “both” she and Wray had been correct in their explanations because the White House’s personnel security office’s investigation had remained open even after the FBI’s had finished.
“In the view of personnel security office, the FBI’s July report required significant additional investigatory field work before personnel security office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication,” she said.
It is the White House personnel security office, Sanders said, that is responsible for making a recommendation on a given individual to the administration. She stressed that the office is staffed by “career officials," not political appointees.
The allegations of spousal abuse against Porter have prompted criticism directed at the White House, especially at chief of staff John Kelly, who had at least some knowledge of the allegations before they became public.
The president, too, has been the subject of criticism, especially in the wake of his statements late last week and over the weekend in which he praised Porter and lamented that “people’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”