White House rebuffs congressional requests for Rob Porter info

Image: FILE PHOTO: Porter hands document to Trump during signing ceremony in the Oval Office in Washington
White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) reminds U.S. President Donald Trump he had a bill to sign after he departed quickly following remarks at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter has faded from front pages, but several underlying questions remain unanswered. Indeed, the bipartisan leadership of the House Oversight Committee requested information from Team Trump about Porter, including the details of when the White House learned from the FBI about the "potential derogatory or disqualifying information" found in Porter's background check.

The answers matter: Porter, who faced accusations from his ex-wives of domestic abuse, had routine access to highly classified materials. It raises the possibility of Donald Trump and his team mishandling sensitive secrets, sharing them with a vulnerable official who lacked the proper clearance.

TPM reported yesterday that the White House is "refusing to comply" with the lawmakers' request.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) politely neglecting to cooperate with their demands for information on how and why Porter was allowed to continue to work as White House staff secretary, a senior position, for months after the FBI had informed senior White House staff of allegations of spousal abuse. The letter was obtained by TPM Thursday evening, shortly after the committee received it."Consistent with your letters' requests, we would be pleased to update you and others on the progress of the working group at the appropriate time," Short writes to Gowdy at the end of the letter after detailing what the White House is doing differently now on security clearance procedures, a courteous way of ignoring Gowdy's specific requests on what the White House's procedures were at the time and who knew what when about Porter.

TPM's report added that Short, instead of responding to the committee's requests for information, "reiterated what the White House has already publicly said about the new procedures, while ignoring Gowdy's questions."

Adding insult to injury, the Oversight Committee originally gave the White House a deadline of last week. Trump's director of legislative affairs delivered his unsatisfying response a week late.

The answer is what lawmakers intend to do about it.

I heard this morning from Elijah Cummings' office, and the Oversight Committee's ranking member has already written to Gowdy, explaining the need for a subpoena. "Last night, we received a completely inadequate response from the White House regarding our Committee's request for information about security clearances," Cummings wrote. "There is an obvious pattern here. Unfortunately, by repeatedly backing down, the Committee has now enabled and emboldened the White House to openly defy congressional oversight. In my opinion, the Trump White House -- more than any other in recent memory -- needs more congressional oversight, not less. The response last night from the White House is an affront to our responsibilities under the Constitution, and it degrades the integrity of our committee."

The ball is now in Gowdy's court. Stay tuned.