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House Oversight Launches Investigation Into Rob Porter's Employment

Feb 14, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today marks one week since former White House aide Rob Porter announced his resignation amid domestic violence allegations. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have some difficult questions for the White House following testimony yesterday from FBI Director Christopher Wray. In his remarks to Congress, Wray seemed to contradict the timeline laid out by the White House over the Rob Porter resignation.

And now this morning, news that the House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy has launched an investigation into Rob Porter's employment. He has sent two letters requesting information about Porter, one letter to the FBI and one to the White House. Here's Gowdy speaking on CNN this morning laying out his main questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TREY GOWDY: Who knew what, when, and to what extent? And if you knew it in 2017 and the bureau briefed him three times, then how in the hell was he still employed?

MARTIN: Joining us now in studio, NPR White House correspondent Mara Liasson. So, Mara, what does it mean for this issue that the White House - that the House Oversight Committee is now taking it up?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It means that this story is not going away. And it means, for the first time in the Trump presidency, the Republican Congress seems to be willing to investigate the White House as opposed to protect the president from investigations.

MARTIN: Why this? Why this issue?

LIASSON: Well, this issue troubles members of Congress. It's not just Trey Gowdy who said he was troubled by, quote, "almost every aspect of this." But this is about domestic violence. It's not a he-said, she-said sexual harassment story. This is a story that has a restraining order. It has a picture of an ex-wife with a black eye. Paul Ryan said today that the White House has to fix their vetting system. He said, if a person committed domestic violence and gets into the government, then there is a breakdown in the system. He called on the White House to condemn domestic violence, which the president has not yet done.

MARTIN: Listeners will know Trey Gowdy's name. He led the Benghazi investigation. Can we assume that he will lead an equally dogged investigation on this issue?

LIASSON: Well, we assume that. Trey Gowdy, who - is a former prosecutor, has an impeccable reputation as a very professional, competent prosecutor. So he has a lot of credibility in this area. He's leaving Congress. This is what's interesting. And in the same interview with CNN, he explained why he's leaving Congress. He said he prefers working in an environment where facts matter. He said, I like jobs where facts matter, where fairness matters, where the process matters. It's not just about winning, not just about reaching a result.

He was asked, oh, do facts not matter in Congress? And he said, I think what matters in Congress is finding a group and then validating or ratifying what they already believe, in other words, tribalism. So that is really interesting, and it shows you that this story may have crossed a line. There's something about domestic abuse, domestic violence that has got this reaction from Republicans in Congress.

MARTIN: So where does this go? I mean, what is Gowdy expecting to find, and where could it lead?

LIASSON: Well, Gowdy is trying to find out what the FBI told the White House and when and then what the White House did about it. The reason this story is ongoing because the White House has told a different story, put out a different timeline than the FBI director. They said the process was ongoing. We didn't learn about these facts until just right before we fired him. Then you have the FBI director telling Congress, no, I gave them reports in the spring and the summer and the fall, and then we closed our investigation.

MARTIN: So in the short term or perhaps medium term, does this mean John Kelly keeps his job? I mean, he's the man at the center of all this. What did the chief of staff know about these allegations, and did he cover up for Rob Porter?

LIASSON: Well, that's a question. And, of course, every day now, the White House is being asked, does the president still have confidence in John Kelly? He said yes. And John Kelly said even just yesterday he felt that everything was all done right. And in this White House, which has had so much staff turmoil - chiefs of staff, at least one before Kelly has already left - he might be on thin ice, but that's certainly something that we're waiting to see.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson for us this morning. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.