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Rob Porter controversy is 'going to be hard to explain away'

When exactly did the White House know about allegations of violence surrounding Staff Secretary Rob Porter?
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

At first blush, yesterday's developments at the White House may have seemed relatively straightforward. Staff secretary Rob Porter, facing allegations that he was physically abusive toward both of his ex-wives, announced his resignation, even while insisting the claims are untrue.

But if you watched last night's show, you know there's more to this one. Indeed, Rachel explained that this is a story that's "going to be hard to explain away."

In his capacity as the staff secretary in the West Wing, Porter was an Oval Office gatekeeper, responsible for, among thing, screening every document that reached the president's desk. That meant Porter needed a security clearance, which required an FBI background check.

The Washington Post  reported that the FBI spoke to both of his ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, who relayed their alleged experiences with Porter.

Willoughby and Holderness said they talked to the FBI about Porter twice last year, once in late January and then again months later. Willoughby provided the contact information for the FBI agent she spoke with, who declined to comment when reached Wednesday. Holderness said that when the FBI asked her whether Porter was vulnerable to blackmail, she answered affirmatively, because of the number of people aware of his abusive behavior."I thought by sharing my story with the FBI he wouldn't be put in that post," Holderness said.

But he was given the job anyway, despite apparent delays in his security clearance. Whether Porter had direct access to sensitive Oval Office materials is not yet clear and is one of the unanswered questions surrounding the controversy.

But it's not the only one.

In fact, much of the focus this week has been on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who initially responded to the allegations with glowing praise for Porter, vouching for his character. Kelly also reportedly urged Porter to remain at his position, at least initially, despite the controversy.

Complicating matters, there are multiple  reports that the White House knew about the allegations of violence toward women months ago, but officials kept Porter at his position anyway, despite the fact that the claims may have interfered with his ability to get a security clearance.

Kelly issued a new statement about the controversy last night, which read, "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. 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 believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition."

As for the political impact, an Axios analysis added this morning, in reference to the Porter story, "The West Wing couldn’t have handled it worse."