Can the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, Survive the Testimony of the F.B.I. Director, Christopher Wray?

Can the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, Survive the Testimony of the F.B.I. Director, Christopher Wray?

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The story about alleged domestic abusers being employed at 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue has been going for more than a week now, and it
keeps getting worse, especially for the White House chief of staff, John
Kelly. On Tuesday, Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I.,
testified on Capitol Hill and openly contradicted some of the White
House’s claims about the background investigation that the Bureau
carried out on Rob Porter, the West Wing staffer who resigned late last week, after it emerged that two of his ex-wives had accused him of
physically and mentally abusing them.

Prior to Wray’s testimony, the White House had repeatedly claimed that
the F.B.I.’s security checks into Porter’s background hadn’t been
completed before last Tuesday, when the British newspaper the Daily Mail published its initial scoop about the spousal-abuse allegations
against Porter. The White House has also insisted that, prior to the Daily Mail story appearing, senior officials, Kelly included, were
unaware of the full nature of these allegations.

“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed to the White House,”
Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, when he was asked about the matter. “What I can tell you is that the F.B.I. submitted a partial
report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed
background investigation in late July. That, soon thereafter, we
received request for follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up and
provided that information in November, and that we administratively
closed the file in January.”

In other words, the F.B.I. updated the White House four times about the
progress of its investigation into Porter. Exactly what information the
Bureau passed along still isn’t clear. But, not long after Wray’s
testimony, the Times reportedthat the F.B.I. “first provided the White House in July with a rundown
of the spousal abuse allegations the bureau had uncovered against Mr.
Porter.”

Even before Wray’s testimony, problems with the White House’s handling
of the Porter matter—and, particularly, the role played by Kelly—had
been exposed. Shortly before the Daily Mail published a photograph of
Porter’s first wife sporting a black eye, the White House gave the paper
a statement in which Kelly described him as “a man of true integrity and
honor.” Clearly, though, Wray’s account deepened the crisis enveloping
Kelly and his colleagues. And, rather than circling the wagons after the
F.B.I. director spoke, a number of White House officials appear to have
blabbed to reporters about what a mess Kelly has made of things.

“Inside the West Wing, a growing number of aides blamed Trump’s second
White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, for the bungled handling of
the allegations against Porter,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, Axios reported,
“Chief of Staff John Kelly’s White House enemies are ready to use FBI
Director Chris Wray’s testimony as a weapon: ‘Wray’s FBI timeline makes
one thing clear: the Kelly coverup is unraveling right before our eyes,’
a White House official says.”

Which official could this last quote have come from? In this White
House, the possibilities are many. Perhaps it could have been someone in
the White House press office who was furious about being asked to tell a
story so full of holes that it quickly fell apart. On Wednesday, Sarah
Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in her daily
briefing, was reduced to claiming that, although “the F.B.I. portion” of
the background investigation into Porter had been closed, as Wray said
it had, the “White House personnel-security office, who is the one that
makes a recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process
and therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.”

Alternatively, perhaps the source of the “Kelly coverup” quote was an
ally of one of the people whom Kelly has pushed out of the White House
since he took the chief-of-staff job, last July. There are certainly
plenty of folks who have a beef with him. “Based on FBI testimony, WH
Chief of Staff John Kelly almost certainly knew about credible
allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter at least 6 months ago –
then recently forced others to lie about that timeline. Inexcusable.
Kelly must resign,” Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House
communications director, whom Kelly fired during his first week on the
job, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

There’s even a theory that Trump’s own family members—Ivanka Trump and
Jared Kushner—might now be out to get Kelly, despite their support for
his appointment back in the summer. Last month, Vanity Fair reported that Trump had called Kelly a “nut job” and quoted an unnamed friend of
Ivanka who said that the President’s daughter was “trying to figure who
replaces Kelly.”

The White House strenuously denied that story, and, over the weekend, it
again sought to knock down the notion that Kelly is on his way out.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor
to Trump, saidthat the President had asked her in advance of her appearance to say
“that I have full faith in Chief of Staff John Kelly and that I’m not
actively searching for replacements.” Conway went on: “He says that
General Kelly’s doing a great job, and he has full faith in him.”

Conway said this on Sunday. After Wray’s testimony, Kelly would now
appear to be on even weaker ground. On Tuesday, a reporter from the
Wall Street Journal asked him if he should have handled the Porter
situation any differently. “No,” Kelly
replied.
“It was all done right.”

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February 14, 2018 at 04:14PM

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