Rob Porter's resignation: What did the White House know and when did it know it?

Last Updated Feb 8, 2018 6:54 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- White House staff secretary Rob Porter returned to the White House Thursday to collect his belongings, a day after resigning from his post over allegations of spousal abuse. Now the questions become, what did the White House know, and when did it know it?

"Rob Porter has repeatedly and publicly denied the allegations," Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said Thursday. "But that doesn't change how serious and disturbing they are."

Shah told reporters that chief of staff John Kelly only became "fully aware" on Wednesday of Porter's alleged history of physically and emotionally abusing two ex-wives. 

"I did talk to the president today," Shah said. "He told me he was very saddened by these reports and the information that he saw." 

But sources tell CBS News the FBI informed White House officials in November about the domestic abuse allegations. Porter's first wife accused him of kicking her, and his second wife said he grabbed her and pulled her from a shower. Both allege verbal abuse.

"You should not and you cannot beat the hell out of your spouse," said Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy. "It is illegal and it is immoral."

Last fall, the allegations did not affect Porter's standing in the White House. In fact, his portfolio expanded. Porter helped draft the president's State of the Union address last month and had recently begun work on trade policy.

As the allegations surfaced Tuesday, Kelly praised Porter as "a man of true integrity and honor." He amended that statement late Wednesday, saying he was "shocked by the new allegations" but standing by his original comment. 

"We all could have done better over the last few hours -- last few days -- in dealing with this situation," Shah said Thursday.

Porter has been dating White House communications director Hope Hicks, who helped draft Kelly's initial statement and others like it defending Porter.

Porter was responsible for vetting all written material -- much of it classified -- given to the president. He was working without a permanent security clearance, his application stalled because the FBI flagged the abuse allegations. 

"The fact that this man operated for a year without a security clearance, I didn't understand that and I still don't," said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The White House will not define what "fully aware" means regarding Kelly. Sources familiar with the clearance process tell us the FBI report on allegations of domestic abuse againstPporter would have been more detailed than the news story this week that set the scandal in motion. That means Kelly could have known much more much sooner.