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The Rob Porter scandal engulfing the White House is now under congressional investigation

GOP Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina announced Wednesday that the House Oversight Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of Rob Porter.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times
GOP Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina announced Wednesday that the House Oversight Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of Rob Porter.

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of former senior aide Rob Porter after allegations emerged that he abused his two ex-wives — a rare GOP foray into alleged misbehavior in the top echelon of the Trump administration.

Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, the panel’s chairman, sent letters Wednesday to FBI Director Christopher Wray and White House chief of staff John Kelly asking for information on what they knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it — an inquiry prompted by an apparent contradiction between the timeline offered by the White House and offered by Wray in congressional testimony on Tuesday.

‘‘I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment,’’ Gowdy said on CNN’s ‘‘New Day’’ on Wednesday, adding that ‘‘the chronology is not favorable for the White House.’’

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Meanwhile, one week after Porter resigned, President Trump said Wednesday that he was “totally opposed to domestic violence,” his first condemnation of the alleged conduct behind a scandal that has engulfed the White House.

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His statement, which members of both parties had said was long overdue, came as John F. Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, faced new questions about his handling of Porter’s case, including how Porter could have held a temporary high-level security clearance for more than a year in light of the allegations.

The Porter scandal has raised sharp questions about what Trump’s top aides may have known about the accusations and when. The White House has struggled to contain a widening crisis over its handling of Porter, who resigned last week. Wray’s testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday, indicating that the FBI raised concerns about Porter in March, directly rebutted what Trump’s aides have said publicly about when the bureau informed White House officials about Porter’s security-clearance investigation.

White House officials said the FBI first contacted them in the summer about Porter’s clearance, according to a report from the Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris. Officials also claimed the investigation was never completed, and they did not know the extent of the allegations against Porter.

Gowdy’s probe encompasses the larger question of whether more White House officials are working with temporary security clearances, indicating potential vetting problems.

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According to the letters sent to Wray and Kelly, the House panel is ‘‘investigating the policies and practices by which interim security clearances are investigated and adjudicated within the Executive Branch, and the extent to which any security clearance issued to Porter comported with those policies and processes.’’

As the White House staff secretary, Porter was responsible for handling the flow of paperwork to and from Trump’s desk — including some of the most sensitive secrets of the federal government. Watchdogs have raised the possibility that Porter could have been subject to blackmail by someone aware of the allegations against him. Two of Porter’s ex-wives, as well as a former girlfriend, have publicly recounted episodes of verbal and physical abuse; one has shared pictures of a facial injury she said Porter inflicted.

Porter has denied wrongdoing.

In his eight months as Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Gowdy has spent much of his time engulfed in another committee’s work: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, where Republicans appear increasingly determined to focus on potential wrongdoing by federal law enforcement rather than any misdeeds committed by Trump or his campaign.

But as Oversight chairman, Gowdy has occasionally taken an interest in other matters. He signed letters in September, for example, asking for more information about senior Trump officials’ use of private or government-owned planes, as well as the use of private e-mail accounts and text messages to conduct White House business.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.