House Oversight Committee Opens Investigation Into Rob Porter's Security Clearance

Feb 14, 2018
Originally published on February 14, 2018 5:05 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump finally weighed in on domestic violence today a week after a top aide named Rob Porter was forced to resign over allegations that he physically abused his two ex-wives. Porter has denied those allegations. Here was Trump in the Oval Office this afternoon.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So now you hear it.

SHAPIRO: Those comments came as we learned today that the House Oversight Committee led by Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy is investigating who at the White House knew about the allegations and when they learned of them. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

SHAPIRO: What exactly is the House Oversight Committee looking into with this investigation?

KEITH: So the letter was addressed to White House chief of staff John Kelly, and it says that the committee is looking into inconsistencies between the White House timeline of events and what FBI Director Christopher Wray testified yesterday about this employee, Rob Porter's, background check. In particular, the committee is asking the White House to clarify its policies on security clearances, whether Rob Porter's clearance was handled in a way that's consistent with those policies and, significantly, who in the White House knew about derogatory or disqualifying information and when they were notified. In other words, the committee's trying to figure out who knew what and when.

SHAPIRO: As we said, this committee is run by Republicans, and they're investigating a Republican-led White House and its handling of a personnel matter. How significant is that?

KEITH: And the Republican who leads this committee is Trey Gowdy. It's a name you'll remember. He is a South Carolina Republican, former prosecutor - recently announced that he's planning to retire at the end of this year. He is the one who led the Benghazi investigation into Hillary Clinton, the one where she testified for something like 11 hours.

You know, what is significant here is that he is asking the White House and the FBI to corroborate the timeline of events, and this White House has tried very hard to say that their timeline doesn't conflict with the FBI's. Unlike us in the press - we've been asking for a week now who knew what and when, and we can't get a straight answer - the Oversight Committee has subpoena power, and it could use it.

SHAPIRO: As I mentioned, the president today made a public statement condemning domestic violence. That's not generally thought of as a difficult statement to make, and yet it took a week. Why?

KEITH: It's a good question and one we don't entirely have an answer to. White House aides and the vice president have said for days that there is no tolerance for domestic violence. And also they've said that the Trump White House could have handled this case better.

Yet as for the president, he doesn't usually have trouble speaking his mind when he's on the attack. He is perfectly happy to tweet or respond to reporters' questions that are being shouted at him. But this was different. And until today, we - all we had seen him say was how great Rob Porter was as an employee. He wished him well. And, you know, the president's instinct in a lot of cases is, when he's being criticized, to dig in and hunker down. And especially if there's a media firestorm and everyone is telling him to say something, that's when he really digs in.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tamara Keith on a story that has not died yet and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

KEITH: Nope.

SHAPIRO: Thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.