- White House chief of staff John Kelly defended his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter, contradicting news reports on the matter.
- Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci accused Kelly on Thursday of covering up the allegations against Porter.
White House chief of staff John Kelly defended his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter on Friday, contradicting news reports on the matter.
Kelly, who released a statement praising former staff secretary Rob Porter as “a man of true integrity and honour” even after the Daily Mail reported allegations of physical and verbal abuse made by one of Porter’s ex-wives on the evening of February 6.
“The first I heard of a serious accusation against him was on sixth of February,” Kelly told reporters on Friday. “The accusation was late in the afternoon, and it was simply one of his two former wives had … claimed that she had had some level of emotional abuse,” Kelly told reporters at the White House on Friday.
Kelly said he asked Porter about the allegation and Porter denied it.
About two hours later, Kelly said he was made aware of a second press inquiry regarding allegations of verbal and physical abuse by another of Porter’s ex-wives. Kelly approached Porter with the new claims and Porter immediately resigned, while still denying the veracity of the allegations, Kelly said.
The news website Axios reported that Kelly pressed Porter to stay on in his role.
Kelly released a statement that evening defending and heaping praise on Porter shortly after the first allegations were published in the Daily Mail.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said in the statement. “He is a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Kelly said on Friday that he “thought that statement was accurate of my relationship with Rob Porter” at the time.
“We worked with him closely,” Kelly said. “He conducted himself as the ultimate gentleman. I never saw him mad or abusive in anyway.”
But Kelly stood by his statement even after all of the abuse allegations, including photos of Porter’s other ex-wife with a black eye, were published by multiple media outlets.
Kelly released a new statement more than 24 hours later saying he was “shocked by the new allegations,” but continued to defend Porter, who has denied all of the claims, calling them “a coordinated smear campaign.”
“There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said in a statement. “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”
While Kelly says he first learned of “red flags” concerning Kelly on February 6, multiple news outlets have reported that Kelly, along with other top White House staffers, including White House counsel Don McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, knew about some of the allegations for months before they became public.
The Washington Post reported last month that McGahn was informed more than a year ago that Porter’s two ex-wives alleged that he abused them, but McGahn did not further investigate the claims while Porter continued to serve at the highest levels of the administration with a temporary security clearance.
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci accused Kelly on Thursday of covering up the allegations against Porter.
“He had the information. He tried to cover up the information. He tried to get other people inside the White House to cover up the information for him,” Scaramucci, who was fired by Kelly after 11 days in the White House, told CNN.
Kelly said he never considered resigning over the episode, despite reports to the contrary.
“I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over,” he said, but added, “We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning; it was confusing.”
President Donald Trump praised Porter in the days following the revelations and pointed to his claims of innocence.
“We certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him,” the president said. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career.”