Senators demand answers from White House chief of staff, counsel on Rob Porter

Who knew what, when about abuse allegations?

Chip Somodevilla/2017 Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) and Staff Secretary Rob Porter

(CNN) - Democrats are demanding answers from the White House chief of staff and counsel about former aide Rob Porter, who resigned Wednesday amid allegations of domestic abuse.

A group of twelve Democratic senators sent a letter Friday to chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn asking when they first knew of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter by his ex-wives.

"We recognize that you and the President have tremendous discretion in deciding whom to hire to work in the White House," the letter read. "However, we are troubled by published accounts suggesting that you decided to hire Mr. Porter despite the fact he could not get a security clearance and that you were aware of the specific domestic violence allegations made against him."

The senators also question whether Porter, who served as Trump's staff secretary, disclosed the allegations on his applications for a security clearance or White House employment. They said they wanted to know if Porter was ever denied a security clearance and if he handled classified information with an interim security clearance.

The allegations of domestic abuse against Porter first came to light Tuesday.

Porter's two ex-wives claimed in an interview with CNN's MJ Lee that they experienced years of abuse from Porter, including incidents of physical violence, and said they detailed the allegations to the FBI as the agency conducted a routine background check into Porter. Porter denied the allegations as "outrageous" and "simply false."

CNN reported Wednesday that Kelly was aware in the fall of last year that Porter was having trouble obtaining his security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. Sources told CNN that Porter first told McGahn in January 2017 that his ex-wives may present potentially damaging information during the FBI background check.

But no action was taken to remove Porter from the staff, and instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter's standing; for example, he was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week's State of the Union address.

The White House declined to comment Wednesday when asked about Kelly's knowledge of the allegations against Porter. In a statement released Wednesday evening, Kelly said he was "shocked" by the "new allegations" against Porter.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Thursday that the White House "could have done better" over the last few days in "dealing with" the domestic violence allegations against Porter. Shah also repeatedly declined to get into specifics about how much the White House knew last year about the allegations against Porter.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on the letter.

The twelve senators who signed the letter to Kelly and McGahn include: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

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