Disgraced former White House aide Rob Porter told one of his ex-wives in September that he was informed that his security clearance check was “delayed” in part because of concerns that he was “violent.”
The revelation, shared with CNN on Wednesday by Porter’s ex-wife Jennie Willoughby, raises fresh questions about who at the White House knew what – and when – regarding the domestic abuse allegations leveled against Porter by his two ex-wives, Willoughby and Colbie Holderness. Both women have said they were interviewed by the FBI in January 2017 as a part of Porter’s background check.
Porter has denied all allegations against him. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Willoughby recalled that Porter, who resigned as President Donald Trump’s staff secretary last week, called her in September to express concern that his clearance check 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 said. “So, he was asking me if I had used that word with the FBI and if Colbie had used that word.”
Willoughby said Porter contacted her one more time in September following this phone call to raise similar concerns about the delay in his background check.
Top White House aides have maintained that few inside the West Wing knew about the accusations against Porter before they were first published in the media last week. But their explanations on why that was the case have shifted repeatedly, from initially blaming the FBI for a delay on the background check to more recently blaming the obscure White House Personnel Security Office for failing to adjudicate Porter’s status.
FBI Director Chris Wray told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the bureau submitted a partial report on Porter in March and later “a completed background investigation” in late July. Wray added that the Porter file was “administratively closed” in January 2018.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was unable to deny on Tuesday that there was contact between the White House Personnel Security Office – the office that would have received the FBI report – and senior leadership in the White House.
“I’m not aware of any communication,” Sanders said. She later added, however, that she couldn’t “say definitively.”
Both Willoughby and Holderness have said they were upfront in their January interviews with the FBI about what they describe as years of emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Porter.
Willoughby, for example, said she disclosed to the FBI in this interview that she had taken out a protective order against Porter in 2010, at the suggestion of police, after Porter punched a glass panel on their front door. An FBI special agent asked Willoughby in February whether she would sign a “release of information form” regarding that incident, but days later, said they “no longer need for you to sign a release for the records.”
In an email to Willoughby on September 15 reviewed by CNN, the same FBI special agent followed up about the 2010 restraining order. The agent asked Willoughby to sign a release form that he said would allow the FBI to obtain a copy of the incident report. It is unclear why the FBI requested this information from Willoughby some eight months after her interview in January 2017.
Holderness, who was married to Porter before Willoughby, has previously told CNN that she was also upfront with the FBI in her January interview about the troubles in her marriage to Porter. She said she disclosed to the FBI that Porter punched her face during a fight in 2005, and that she subsequently shared with the FBI photos of the black eye.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.