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FBI Timeline For Rob Porter's Background Check Conflicts With What White House Said


Let's look now at the confusing saga of Rob Porter's efforts to get a security clearance. Porter left the West Wing last week after serving for more than a year as White House staff secretary - the main person handling paperwork for the president, including a lot of sensitive, classified information. He did that with a temporary security clearance. The White House said his background check process was still ongoing when Porter left. But today, FBI Director Chris Wray said the bureau closed its books on the investigation weeks before. Well, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to shed light on all of this. Hey, Mara.


KELLY: So the FBI director pretty much upended the White House version of events. How do we reconcile these timelines?

LIASSON: Right now, we can't. We still don't have clarity from the White House about who knew what when. The White House claimed the investigation was ongoing. Chris Wray today said it was finished. Today, Sarah Sanders put a different spin on that and said the process was ongoing in the White House personnel security office. That's the office that would make the final determination about who gets a clearance...


LIASSON: ...Even though the FBI had finished its investigation. The problem is is that that isn't what they've been saying until today. They've been painting a picture of a chief of staff and top officials in the White House who were not informed about the FBI findings. And today, both Sanders and Chris Wray declined to get into specifics about exactly who knew what when.

KELLY: Who are the key players at the White House who are handling this and explaining the administration's process on this?

LIASSON: Well, Sarah Sanders is explaining, but the key officials would be Don McGahn, the White House counsel. He's the person who would have actually gotten the reports from the FBI, including about other people in the White House who have interim security clearances, like Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and of course John Kelly, the chief of staff who's right in the middle of this entire controversy. He hasn't spoken yet in public. He did give a brief interview to The Wall Street Journal where he said it was all done right. He has yet to clarify what he knew and when.

And some of his statements have been undercut by others in the White House. For instance, he says as soon as he found out the details about Rob Porter's alleged abuse, he was gone in 40 minutes. But before that, the White House was still putting out supportive statements about Porter. And reportedly, the White House even made Porter available to reporters to tell his side of the story. I think one of the most extraordinary moments of today's press briefing was when Sarah Sanders said the press team is just not as read-in as others in the White House. In other words, they don't have the full story, and we can't expect them to.

KELLY: Well, what about the boss? What's the president saying? Does he have the full story?

LIASSON: We assume he does, but two things are happening. Number one, the president has not spoken about this. He's been asked repeatedly by reporters, so he's had some opportunities, and his Twitter feed is always available. He hasn't said anything about believing the women or support for domestic abuse victims. The only thing he's had to say is about due process and, quote, "mere accusations ruining people's lives." That's left female staffers like Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway to insist that the president does support victims of any type of violence.

Today, Sanders even pointed out as evidence that the president's budget fully funds the Violence Against Women Act. But what's interesting about the due process claims from the president is that his interest in due process seems to be partisan. He did care about it for Roy Moore. He didn't care about it for Al Franken or Huma Abedin or the Central Park Five.

KELLY: OK. So step back with me here - big controversy engulfing the White House - certainly not the first big controversy to engulf this White House. Is there something different going on here in terms of how it is becoming all-consuming?

LIASSON: Yes because there's nobody they are blaming this for. They're not blaming it on the deep state or Democrats or the FBI. This is one of the few scandals in a scandal-ridden White House that's been entirely self-generated and self-perpetuated. And once again, like Mike Flynn, somebody gets fired only after it gets into the press - in this case, after a horrifying picture of Porter's ex-wife with a black eye got in the news.

KELLY: Yeah. And just briefly - lasting political fallout then?

LIASSON: Well, the White House certainly thinks there might be. Otherwise, why are Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders going to such great lengths to portray the president as a champion of victims of abuse? If the president has lost support this year, he has lost some support with women. If - depending on how long this controversy drags on, it could have some repercussions, especially in a year where women on the Democratic side are very energized.

KELLY: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.