A Democratic congressman who was a staff secretary in the Clinton White House said President Donald Trump‘s staff secretary, Rob Porter, “never should have been” in that job.
Sean Patrick Maloney, now a New York representative, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday that the FBI‘s scrutiny of prospective White House staff for security clearance is so thorough that Trump administration officials must have known that Porter had been accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.
“That process is incredibly exacting,” Maloney said. “And these guys knew in the first month of the administration about a fact pattern that would have permanently disqualified him from doing the job. He never should have been in the chair.”
“I did that job,” Maloney said of the staff secretary position. “When I did that, the FBI sent agents from the Montevideo field office in Uruguay to the small Peruvian village where I worked with the Jesuits between college and law school” as part of the background check to approve his security clearance.
Porter resigned last week amid multiple allegations of domestic abuse by two ex-wives, although he refuted what he called the “outrageous allegations” that are “simply false.”
Multiple sources told ABC News that senior members of Trump’s administration knew for months that there was a personal issue hanging over Porter that delayed his receiving a White House security clearance. However, although senior White House staff were aware of the domestic abuse allegations by Porter’s ex-wives, they did not know the full extent of the claims, senior administration officials said.
Deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in the White House press briefing Thursday that Porter was operating under an interim clearance, and that while he was never granted a permanent clearance, he was never actually denied a clearance.
Shah added that Trump did not know that Porter was operating under an interim clearance.
Maloney said on “This Week” on Sunday that, based on his experience, the White House staff secretary handles sensitive material.
“On that desk, there are a stack of red folders marked ‘top secret.’ Every day our nation’s highest secrets are seen by the staff secretary. There’s a burn bag under the desk because when you’re done, you incinerate those materials,” Maloney said.
“The idea that someone without a security clearance was allowed to be there in the first place, despite these allegations, and was allowed to stay there with no plan for getting him a clearance, is not the normal process,” the Democratic congressman said.
Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first ex-wife, told ABC News that her allegations of domestic abuse by Porter came up when the FBI interviewed her in January 2017 as part of its background check on him.
“During the course of answering those questions I did share with him my experience of … the verbal, physical and emotional abuse,” Holderness said. Jennie Willoughby, Porter’s second ex-wife, also confirmed to ABC News that the she told the FBI about her experiences with Porter she was interviewed as part of his background check.
Willoughby said Porter told her last fall that his security clearance was being delayed and asked if she had used the word “violent” to describe him to the FBI.
She said she and Porter have had a cordial and respectful relationship since their divorce in 2013. “I care about Rob and in no way want him to be harmed.”
The FBI has previously declined to comment to ABC News about its background checks on Porter.
Maloney said what is supposed to happen is the FBI is “supposed to say, ‘We got a problem with this guy … sideline him’ … You cannot have someone seeing our nation’s secrets who has a secret of their own. They are so easy to blackmail. That is why you do a background check.”
On Thursday, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, slammed Republicans for “[blocking] all efforts to obtain” information about the security clearance process for White House staff.
“If you had agreed to any of our previous requests for information on these matters, the White House would have been required to answer key questions about why Mr. Porter was denied a final security clearance, who at the White House was aware of this information, and how Mr. Porter was allowed to remain in his position,” Cummings wrote in his letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.
A spokesperson for Gowdy has previously declined to comment on Cummings’ letter.