White House chief said to have been alerted on aide’s past

John Kelly was reportedly told about domestic violence allegations against Rob Porter

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly walks with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to depart with U.S. President Donald Trump aboard the Marine One helicopter from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 29, 2017. Picture taken November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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White House chief of staff John Kelly knew that President Donald Trump’s staff secretary had issues in his past possibly impeding a permanent security clearance before news reports this week on domestic violence allegations against the aide, people familiar with the matter said.

A deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, was concerned that Rob Porter hadn’t yet passed a background check more than a year into his tenure and briefed his boss, Mr Kelly, it was said. Mr Porter continued in his high-level job while his bosses waited for the conclusion of the staff secretary’s security clearance investigation, the people said.

Mr Kelly and Mr Hagin didn’t know the specific allegations against the staff secretary, the people said, but the chief of staff asked his deputy a few weeks ago to dig deeper into why there had been delays in background checks of certain key staff, including Mr Porter. Meanwhile, the Porter that Kelly and other top staff saw every day at the White House was excellent at his job and cordial to his colleagues.

“Kelly became fully aware about these allegations yesterday,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I’m not going to get into specifics about who may have known what pieces of information.”

The episode is another staffing embarrassment for Mr Trump and may threaten his chief of staff’s standing in the White House. Several aides and White House advisers expressed disgust and said Mr Kelly had failed the president if he knew about his aide’s history with his ex-wives and didn’t inform the president.

After issuing a complimentary statement on Mr Porter earlier on Wednesday, Mr Kelly said in the evening that he “was shocked by the new allegations released today. There is no place for domestic violence in our society.”

The president didn’t know about Mr Porter’s history with the two ex-wives before Tuesday, when the DailyMail.com approached the White House with details of an interview with one of the women, two White House officials said.

“He was saddened for all of the individuals involved,” Mr Shah said.

Mr Porter announced on Wednesday he would resign but without leaving the White House immediately. Realisation about the seriousness of the abuse allegations grew within the White House after The Intercept published an interview with a second ex-wife and a photo of what she said was a black eye inflicted by Mr Porter.

He denied both of the ex-wives’ allegations. His last day at the White House is now today.

“The allegations against Rob Porter are serious and deeply troubling,” Mr Shah said. “He did deny them. The incidents took place long before he joined the White House.”

Mr Porter’s title understates his significance in the White House. He served as a clearinghouse for paperwork coming in or out of the Oval Office, and he was an important influence on policy in his own right. Few aides enjoyed greater access to the Oval Office, or spent more time in the president’s company. He also played a vital role in helping Mr Kelly try to bring order to the White House.

Allegations of domestic violence can be grounds for the government to deny security clearances to aspiring officials. Yet Mr Porter had sat in on meetings of the National Security Council where top secret matters were discussed, according to three people familiar with the situation. Someone in his position would have had an interim clearance while the FBI conducted a background check, according to one official.

Senior staff at the White House apply for five-year clearances, and the process can be lengthy – some current officials are still waiting, aides said. Mr Porter never received a permanent clearance and his background investigation was ongoing when he resigned, Mr Shah said.

“The fact that Porter might have held a senior White House position without a security clearance is troubling and merits a full investigation,” said Chris Lu, former cabinet secretary under President Barack Obama and senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. “I’ve lost count as to how many Trump appointees have​ been sidelined because of their past views or conduct​. But​ this is further evidence of a non-existent vetting process.”