Ex-wife who accused Rob Porter of abuse says she lived in ‘constant terror’

Jennifer Willoughby. Screenshot via CNN
  • Jennifer Willoughby, an ex-wife of the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, described what she said was “systematic” abuse she suffered during their marriage.
  • She said she lived in a “low-grade, constant terror” with Porter.
  • Willoughby’s story gained worldwide attention along with that of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, who said Porter gave her a black eye.
  • Porter was fired this week.

Jennifer Willoughby, one of the two women who leveled accusations of domestic and emotional abuse against the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, says she lived in a state of “low-grade, constant terror” with him.

That terror stemmed from “not knowing what I might do to set something off,” Willoughby said during a CNN interview that aired Thursday night. She said Porter engaged in a “systematic tearing down” of her character during their marriage.

Those accounts from Willoughby and Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, amplified the scrutiny around Porter this week, as he became the Trump administration’s latest casualty. He strongly denied the allegations. He was terminated on Thursday.

During her interview, Willoughby at points offered measured praise for Porter, who she called “intelligent, kind, chivalrous, caring, and professional.” But the other side of that, she said, is a man who is “deeply troubled, and angry, and violent.”

When CNN host Anderson Cooper openly wondered whether Porter’s colleagues in the White House had any suspicions about him, Willoughby said it was “reserved for the intimate and most vulnerable moments in his life.”

‘What I said were factual statements’

After several news outlets published the abuse claims from his ex-wives, Porter this week called the allegations “outrageous” and “simply false.” Willoughby said Porter contacted her days earlier, warning her that the stories would come out, and tried to convince her to downplay her own claims.

“That just didn’t feel right to me,” Willoughby said, adding, “what I said were factual statements.” She rejected Porter’s public assertions that the claims were part of a “coordinated smear campaign” against him.

“I have no vendetta against Rob Porter,” Willoughby said. “I seek no harm for him.”

When asked whether she thought Porter may have abused White House communications director Hope Hicks, who is rumoured to be in a relationship with Porter, Willoughby said, “I don’t think he’s changed. If he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will.”

Hicks is believed to have helped draft an early White House statement that called Porter a “man of true integrity and honour.” She’s one of several top officials within, and close to, the administration who either knew about the accusations long before the public did, or vigorously defended Porter once they surfaced.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Porter on Wednesday and said Trump and chief of staff John Kelly had “full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”

On Thursday night, The New York Times indicated that White House general counsel Donald McGahn knew about the claims against Porter since late fall. Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, initially tried to undercut the allegations as “politically motivated.”

But the GOP congressman, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, minced no words: “If you want to serve the public, particularly as a member of a president’s staff, I don’t care who you are, even if you’re a Rhodes Scholar, you can’t beat the hell out of your spouse. It’s wrong.”

Watch a portion of Willoughby’s interview below: