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White House faces new pressure from Congress over aide’s departure

FILE PHOTO - Trump departs for travel to Missouri from the White House in Washington

FILE PHOTO – 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

By Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump faced new pressure on Wednesday from his Republican allies in Congress over domestic abuse allegations against a former aide as lawmakers questioned whether his administration has properly vetted top staffers.

Republican Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he was investigating when the White House learned of “potential derogatory or disqualifying information” about former Staff Secretary Rob Porter.

Porter left the White House last week after two former wives said he abused them. He has denied the accusations.

“The chronology is not favorable for the White House,” Gowdy said on CNN.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, said the White House should improve its vetting process.

“If a person committing domestic violence gets into government, then there’s a breakdown in the system,” Ryan said at a news conference.

Porter’s departure has raised questions about how long top staffers like White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the allegations, and whether it was a security risk to have Porter working in the White House.

Porter had been operating under a temporary clearance that have him access to some sensitive information without a final clearance. The White House has not offered a definitive explanation of when top officials first got word of problems in Porter’s background.

The White House has said that Kelly asked Porter to resign when he became “fully aware” of the accusations last Wednesday, the same day the Daily Mail published photos showing one of Porter’s former wives with a black eye.

The White House was still working on Porter’s security clearance at that point, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

But Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray has contradicted that version of events, telling Congress on Tuesday that the FBI had completed Porter’s security clearance background check last July.

Porter had been rising in Trump’s inner circle and had been talking to Kelly about a promotion before his departure, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Gowdy said on CNN he would also ask the FBI how it conducts background checks.

Roughly a dozen top White House officials, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, have yet to achieve a full security clearance, according to Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Kushner’s extensive holdings and his travels have delayed the process, and there is no concern about either the vetting process or Kushner’s ability to do his job, Lowell said.

(Writing by Andy SullivanEditing by Jonathan Oatis)

 

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