The White House's shifting timeline on Porter

CNN's Chris Cuomo fact-checks the White House's timeline of what was known about the domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter.

Posted: Feb 14, 2018 6:08 AM
Updated: Feb 14, 2018 6:27 AM

One week ago, The Daily Mail ran an article with this headline: "EXCLUSIVE: 'He pulled me, naked and dripping from the shower to yell at me.' Ex-wife of Trump aide Rob Porter, who's dating Hope Hicks, tells how he called her a 'f***ing b***h' on their honeymoon and she filed a protective order against him."

Within 48 hours, Porter had resigned amid a series of allegations from both of his ex-wives about how he physically and mentally abused them as well as a photograph of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye.

The Trump White House -- led by President Donald Trump himself -- continues struggling to settle on a timeline of events over when they found out about the accusations against Porter and what they did about it. Trump has said and tweeted sentiments seemingly sympathetic to Porter even as his White House -- via press secretary Sarah Sanders -- insisted that he "take(s) domestic violence very seriously."

It's been a remarkable series of poor decisions, miscalculations and mixed messages. Below, I've documented what the White House said -- and what facts we learned -- over each of the eight days of the Porter scandal. It's a wild ride.

Tuesday, February 6

The Daily Mail story posts just after 7 p.m.

Wednesday, February 7

Chief of staff John Kelly releases a statement that reads: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him." (We later learn that communications director Hope Hicks, who is romantically involved with Porter, was involved in the crafting of Kelly's hugely supportive statement.)

At 1:53 a.m. Wednesday morning, Ryan Grim, the DC bureau chief of The Intercept, tweets a picture of Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye. "Senior White House aide Rob Porter physically assaulted two ex-wives, they tell @theintercept," reads the tweet. "Full story to come in the morning. His first wife, Colbie Holderness, provided these photos from a vacation they took together in Florence, Italy."

The Intercept publishes a story at 1:33 p.m. that reports that both of Porter's ex-wives told the FBI during a routine background check that he abused them.

Sanders and Porter huddle with a small group of reporters in an off-the-record setting in an attempt to push back on the allegations and get Porter's side of the story heard. That meeting was first reported by Politico.

By Wednesday afternoon, Porter has resigned, although he insists he is innocent. "These outrageous allegations are simply false," he says. "I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Sanders, in the daily press briefing, insists that Porter was not forced to resign: "I think that was a personal decision that Rob made, and one that he was not pressured to do, but one that he made on his own."

Kelly stands by his initial supportive statement until almost 9:30 p.m., when the White House issues a new statement from Kelly. "There is no place for domestic violence in our society," he says in the new statement. "I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation."

Thursday, February 8

CNN reports that Kelly -- as well as other senior White House staffers (but not the President) -- knew that Porter's permanent security clearance was on hold and that both of his ex-wives had made allegations against him.

"By early fall, it was widely known among Trump's top aides -- including chief of staff John Kelly -- both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them," CNN reported. "No action was taken to remove him from the staff."

Not only that, but Kelly repeatedly urged Porter to hunker down and try to weather the stories in hopes of keeping someone he has increasingly leaned on to manage Trump on staff.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah issues a statement before the start of the daily press briefing that reads in part:

"It is important to remember that Rob Porter has repeatedly denied these allegations, and done so publicly. That doesn't change how serious and disturbing these allegations are. They are upsetting. And the background check investigates both the allegations and the denials. The investigation does not stop when allegations comes to light. It continues to determine the truth.

"We should not short-circuit an investigation just because allegations are made, unless they could compromise national security or interfere with operations at the White House. The truth must be determined."

Under questioning, Shah says that Porter was "terminated" shortly after the "full nature" of the allegations became clear. That stands in direct contrast to the reporting froM CNN and others that Kelly knew of the basic parameters of the allegations last fall.

Shah also acknowledges that "we all could have done better over the last few hours — or last few days in dealing with this situation."

Friday, February 9

For the first time, Trump himself addresses Porter's resignation and the accusations against his former staff secretary. Here it is in full:

"Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.It's obviously a tough time for him.

"He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him, but it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now.

"Now he also — as you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House."

CNN reports that Trump has grown frustrated with Hicks, who has been, to date, one of his most trusted and loyal advisers.

Saturday, February 10

At 10:33 a.m., Trump tweets this: "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"

Sunday, February 11

Trump allies span out across the Sunday talk shows in an attempt to reframe his comments Friday and his tweet on Saturday.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says that Trump was "very disturbed" by the allegations against Porter. White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short says Trump was "saddened."

Office of Management and Budget head Mick Mulvaney suggests that the Trump Saturday tweet wasn't even about Porter at all. "When I saw the tweet -- I know Rob Porter wasn't mentioned -- I wondered if the President was talking about his friend Steve Wynn, who has been accused and essentially condemned without any due process," Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday."

On Sunday night, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports that Trump's attitude in private toward Porter is far different than his public stance. Swan reports that Trump has referred to Porter as a "sick" and lambasted him and his behavior behind closed doors.

Monday, February 12

Reporting out of the White House suggests that aides are perplexed at Trump's public statements versus his private sentiments.

Sanders, under fierce questioning about the still-unclear timeline of who knew what when and the seeming sympathy for Porter in Trump's statements, says this in the daily press briefing:

"The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process."

Sanders refuses to address why Trump himself offered no statement clarifying his tweet from Saturday. Of her statement, Sanders says that Trump "literally dictated that statement" to her.

On Monday night, Holderness, Porter's first wife, publishes an op-ed in The Washington Post in which she takes issue with the idea, put forward, she argues, by Conway, that she and Jennifer Willoughby, Porter's second wife, are not strong women.

Tuesday, February 13

In a briefing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Chris Wray says that the bureau reported a completed background investigation on Porter in July 2017 and then responded to a follow-up request in November. The FBI closed its file on Porter in January, according to Wray.

That directly contradicts what Shah said last Thursday. "In this instance, in the case of Rob Porter, we relied on the background check investigative process," said Shah. "That process hadn't been completed."

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