Washington • The House Judiciary Committee on Monday subpoenaed Rob Porter, a former chief of staff to then-Sen. Orrin Hatch and staff secretary to President Donald Trump, in the ongoing investigation into the White House’s efforts to derail the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s election interference.
Porter, who resigned his White House job amid allegations of abuse by his ex-wives – allegations he denies – declined to comment on the subpoena.
The Democratic-led Judiciary Committee is continuing to probe Russia election meddling as well as Trump’s attempts to halt special counsel Robert Mueller from investigating possible ties to that effort.
Porter, who had daily access to the Oval Office and was present in many high-profile meetings, was a key witness in Mueller’s report, which found several instances when Trump tried to stymie Mueller’s investigation only to find aides unwilling to break the law.
“As I’ve said before, any other American would have been prosecuted based on the evidence special counsel Mueller uncovered in his report,” said the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. “Rob Porter was prominently featured in the special counsel’s description of President Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice by directing then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel, and then ordering him to lie about it.”
The committee has also subpoenaed other former White House officials, including McGahn, to testify publicly as part of its “investigation into obstruction, corruption and abuse of power by Trump and his associates.”
The effort could turn into impeachment proceedings depending on what the committee finds, Nadler said.
“No one is above the law,” he added.
The White House is likely to fight Porter’s subpoena as it has for other officials, claiming an executive privilege that protects deliberations inside the administration. The White House forbade McGahn from testifying, leaving House Democrats to sue to enforce the subpoena.
At one point, Trump directed Porter to tell McGahn to create a false record suggesting Trump had never ordered McGahn to fire Mueller as special counsel.
Porter relayed the message, even though he didn't believe that was his job. McGahn refused to write the letter Trump wanted because he didn't believe it was true, the Muller report says.
Porter led what could be called the nerve center of the White House, preparing any paper the president would see or sign. He kept notes of his encounters, notes that surfaced as footnotes in Mueller's report.
Mueller also wrote that Porter attempted to stop Trump from taking some actions that he saw as wrongheaded.
Trump, at one point, incensed that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia probe, told Porter to ask a top Justice Department official, Rachel Brand, if she’d take over supervising Mueller’s office, a move that Porter refused to take.
The special counsel did not make a determination of whether Trump obstructed justice but said others could further investigate, a nod to Congress to take up the question.
Porter, who had worked as Hatch's top aide and as general counsel for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, resigned his White House job in February 2018 after his two ex-wives came forward to say he had abused them.
His first wife, Colbie Holderness, told the Daily Mail that Porter was “verbally, emotionally and physically abusive and that’s why I left.”
Holderness told online publication The Intercept that during a vacation in Florence, Italy, Porter physically assaulted her and she provided a photo showing her with a blackened eye.
Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, told the Daily Mail that Porter was abusive and that she was “walking on eggshells” during their marriage because of his anger.
Porter denied the allegations and noted the real story behind the photo, which he says he took, is “nowhere close to what is being described.”
“I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign,” Porter said.