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What did the White House know about Rob Porter’s alleged abuse?

A timeline of what's been reported so far

by Alex Thompson and Carter Sherman
Feb 8 2018, 10:15pm

The White House refused to reveal Thursday what officials knew, and when, about accusations that former Staff Secretary Rob Porter physically abused two ex-wives. The timeline remains a significant question amid reports that members of the Trump administration had known about Porter’s alleged history for months and that the allegations prevented Porter from getting a full security clearance.

“The chief of staff [John Kelly], he became fully aware about the allegations yesterday,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters in a Thursday afternoon briefing. When asked what “fully aware” means, Shah offered, “I do know, for instance, that he had not seen images prior to the statement on Tuesday night.”

Porter, who controlled which papers went into the Oval Office and had become a right-hand man to Kelly, resigned Wednesday after in-depth accounts from two ex-wives detailing the alleged abuse appeared in the Daily Mail and The Intercept. The Intercept on Wednesday published photos of the first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye.

The Trump administration initially defended Porter on the record Tuesday and reportedly urged him to keep his post. But then further media reports came out about the alleged abuse and revealed that the FBI knew about it, suggesting that the White House cared more about the allegations against Porter becoming public than the allegations themselves.

Now, there are still several open questions about when senior officials in the White House became aware of the allegations and how they responded. This is what’s been reported so far.

2003: Rob Porter and Colbie Holderness marry. [Intercept]

2005: Porter allegedly punches Holderness in the face during a trip to Florence. She says she makes him take pictures of her black eye and she emails the pictures to herself. [Washington Post]

2008: Holderness and Porter divorce. [CBS]

2009: Porter and Jennie Willoughby marry after a short courtship. [Intercept]

June 2010: Willoughby obtains a temporary emergency protective order in ­Arlington, Virginia, after she says Porter refuses to leave her home, a violation of their separation agreement, and he allegedly breaks her window with his fist in anger. The protective order says “reasonable grounds exist to believe that [Porter] has committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further such offense.” [Washington Post]

December 2010: Porter grabs Willoughby by the shoulders and pulls her from the shower during a fight, Willoughby later alleges. [Washington Post]

2013: Porter and Willoughby divorce. [Intercept]

Jan. 19, 2017: Porter begins working in the White House as a staff secretary to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leaving his chief of staff position in Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office. [Politico]

January 2017: Willoughby and Holderness tell the FBI of Porter’s abuse as part of the bureau’s clearance review process. It’s not yet know when, or what, the FBI told the White House. The FBI talked to both Willoughby and Holderness again months later, the women said. [Washington Post]

April 2017: Willoughby publishes a blog post detailing abuse but does not name Porter. Soon after, she says, Porter calls her and asks her to take it down. She refuses. [Willoughby’s blog and Washington Post]

July 2017: John Kelly replaces Priebus as Trump’s chief of staff. Porter becomes a trusted confidante with growing influence.

September/October 2017: The abuse claims and Porter’s resulting problems getting a full security clearance are reportedly widely known among Trump aides. [CNN] Around this time, Porter calls Willoughby a second time and asks her to take down the blog post because it was delaying his security clearance. She declines. [Washington Post]

White House spokesman Raj Sah says on Feb. 8 that the White House was not “fully aware” of the abuse allegations until media reports and pictures appeared this week. He declines to clarify exactly what “fully aware” means and won't discuss the details of who knew what when.

January 2018: Porter again asks Willoughby to take down her blog post because reporters are looking into his past. She again refuses. [Washington Post] Around this time, an ex-girlfriend of Porter’s tells White House Counsel Don McGahn that Porter abused his ex-wives. She also tells McGahn about Porter’s romantic relationship with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. (This woman has declined to be named, but she reportedly works in the Trump administration.) [Politico]

7:09 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018: The Daily Mail publishes its first article detailing Porter’s alleged abuse of Willoughby and an on-the-record interview with her. Kelly defends Porter to the publication, saying, “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."

This report also alerts Trump to the allegations against Porter, according to Shah, who later says that the president was “saddened” by the accusations.

1:53 am, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018: The Intercept publishes the first photos of Holderness with a black eye after she says Porter punched her. They follow it up with a piece interviewing both ex-wives, who detail abuse.

1:36 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018: Porter announces his resignation and calls the allegations against him “simply false.” He is expected to stay on staff for a few weeks to “ensure a smooth transition.”

3:54 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018: The White House again expresses support for Porter. “The President and Chief of Staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says in a statement given to the press. “Rob Porter has been effective in his role as staff secretary.”

9:31 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018: Kelly releases another statement, now more critical of Porter. "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter,” it says. “There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and I believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition."

3:41 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018: The White House announces that Porter’s last day at the White House was Wednesday and that he came in Thursday morning to clear out his stuff. Shah also clarifies that Porter’s background check had not yet been completed by the time of his resignation, and that Porter had been operating on an an interim security clearance.

Taylor Dolven contributed reporting.