WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump broke his silence Wednesday after defending a former aide who was accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.
"I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that," the president said, more than a week after the allegations against Rob Porter first became public.
The president added: "Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So now you hear it, but you all know it."
Trump had praised Porter, his former staff secretary, Friday in his first comments about the allegations. And Saturday, he appeared to cast doubt on the women's allegations when he tweeted: "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation."
The White House's handling of the Porter situation has ensnared senior West Wing officials, calling into question the decision-making and candor of chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn.
Trump's comments come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill launched a probe into how Porter was allowed to work at the White House under an interim security clearance despite allegations of spousal abuse.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent letters to the FBI and White House on Wednesday as his panel opened an investigation into the matter.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked Wednesday about how the White House has handled the Porter allegations and whether Trump needs to publicly condemn domestic violence.
"Clearly, we all should be condemning domestic violence," Ryan told reporters. "And if a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there's a breakdown in the system. There's a breakdown in the vetting system and that breakdown needs to be addressed."
Ryan's comments and word of the House probe followed a day after the FBI contradicted the White House over the Porter accusations. The FBI said it gave the Trump administration information on multiple occasions last year about Porter and that the investigation wrapped up in January.
That account by FBI Director Christopher Wray challenged the White House assertion that Porter's background "investigation was ongoing" and officials first learned the extent of accusations against him only last week, just before he abruptly resigned.
Privately, officials acknowledge that the public timeline offered last week — that the administration first learned of the ex-wives' charges against Porter last Tuesday — was flawed at best.
Several senior officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, were aware of the broad allegations against Porter for months, officials said.
Kelly found out after requesting an update on the large number of senior staffers operating without full security clearances, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. McGahn told Kelly last fall there was concern about information in the background investigation involving Porter's ex-wives, the official said, and Kelly expressed surprise that Porter had previously been married.
Despite that, Porter took on an increasingly central role in the West Wing and was under consideration to serve as Trump's deputy chief of staff, two officials said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday, "The White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check." Yet Wray testified that the FBI sent the White House its preliminary report in March 2017 and its completed investigation in late July. Soon after that, the agency received a request for a follow-up inquiry, and it provided that information in November. Porter was interviewed about the allegations in September, an official said.
"And then we administratively closed the file in January, and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well," Wray added in his congressional testimony Tuesday, without elaboration.
The FBI does not make recommendations about whether to grant or deny a security clearance, officials said, leaving the determination up to the employee's agency, in Porter's case, the White House.
Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.