- White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday after his two ex-wives publicly alleged years of physical and emotional abuse.
- Both women told the FBI about the alleged abuse in interviews conducted last year as part of Porter’s application for a security clearance.
- Porter called the allegations a “coordinated smear campaign” on Wednesday.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter, an integral part of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, resigned Wednesday after both of his ex-wives came forward to allege years of physical and mental abuse.
Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby alleged that Porter physically and mentally abused them during their marriages. Holderness, married to Porter from 2003 to 2008, provided photos of a black eye she claimed she suffered from Porter. Willoughby, married to Porter from 2009 to 2013, provided a copy of a 2010 restraining order she filed against Porter.
The Daily Mail reported last week that Porter is romantically involved with White House communications director Hope Hicks.
His first marriage – ‘He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face’
Holderness, who met Porter at a Mormon church in 2000 while she was a student at Wellesley College, says that her ex-husband regularly physically and emotionally abused her throughout their five-year marriage. In 2005, during a trip to Florence, Italy, she said Porter punched her in the face.
“He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face,” Holderness told the Intercept.
“I didn’t go the police because I was scared, I was in Italy alone and I didn’t know what to do,” she told the Daily Mail.
“In his contrition, I had him take photos of what he did,” she said.
Over the next several years, Holderness said that Porter would assault her when he lost his temper.
“He would throw me down on the bed, then put his full body weight on top of me, then grind a knee or elbow into my body, expressing rage,” she said.
At times, Porter would choke her, which Holderness called “scary, humiliating, and dehumanising” but said “it wasn’t like it was life-threatening.”
Holderness moved out of the couple’s apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts while the two attended graduate school at Harvard. After spending a year apart, Holderness moved back in and the emotional abuse resumed. She took a leave of absence from her graduate program, telling her professors that her “marriage was a nightmare” before the two divorced.
Holderness’ brother, Trevor Paulson, and a close female friend who declined to be named both told CNN that Holderness had described Porter’s abuse to them.
Holderness, who is remarried and works for the federal Government Accountability Office in Washington, said that she told multiple bishops in her Mormon church about the abuse, but they did not encourage her to act.
“It wasn’t until there was a second wife and then a long-time girlfriend reaching out to me, who was experiencing some weird things. I started to realise that he keeps getting away with it,” Colbie said. “It’s a pattern now, it hasn’t gone away.”
His second marriage – ‘I called the police, afraid he would break in’
Porter married his second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, in late 2009 after the two dated for less than six months. Willoughby alleges that her husband’s verbal abuse began during their honeymoon in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“I can’t remember what triggered it. He lashed out and was really angry, and both under his breath and explicitly to me called me a ‘f—— b—-‘ and ‘f—— ridiculous,'” she said. “He accused me of not caring about him or not caring about his needs.”
About three months later, during a period in which the two were informally separated, Porter allegedly came to Willoughby’s apartment to retrieve his clothes, refused to leave, and punched in the glass on the locked front door while his wife was inside.
Willoughby, who now works as an educator and writer, filed a protective order with the police.
“I asked him several times to leave with his things, but he did not until I picked up the phone to call our clergy member. While he was gone, I took his clothes and put them in a suitcase on the front porch,” Willoughby wrote in the order. “When he returned a few minutes later, he punched in the glass on the door. I called the police, afraid he would break in.”
Willoughby told yhe Daily Mail that she spent the marriage “walking on eggshells” because of Porter’s anger issues. On December 22, 2010, just over a year into their marriage, she said Porter pulled her naked from the shower and yelled at her.
“It was a glass shower door, he opened it and dragged me by my shoulders out of the shower to yell,” she said. “Immediately upon seeing my reaction to that, he released me and apologised but it doesn’t take away that he was angry enough that that happened.”
Willoughby wrote about the alleged abuse she suffered in a series of blog posts. She says that Porter called her last year to pressure her to take down the blog posts and asked her what she had told the FBI about their relationship.
“If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave,” Willoughby wrote in one blog post. “But he could be kind and sensitive. And so I stayed. He cried and apologised. And so I stayed. He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups. And so I stayed. He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence. And so I stayed. I felt ashamed and trapped. And so I stayed. Friends and clergy didn’t believe me. And so I stayed. I was pregnant. And so I stayed. I lost the pregnancy and became depressed. And so I stayed.”
Willoughby also told the Daily Mail that a woman who recently dated Porter sent her a message informing her that Porter was considering hiring a private investigator or journalist to dig up and publish information about her.
‘A coordinated smear campaign’
On Wednesday, Porter called the allegations “outrageous” and “simply false,” but did not specifically deny having committed any of the alleged acts.
“I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said in a statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
He went on, “My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”
The White House vigorously defended Porter on Wednesday, telling reporters that no one asked Porter to resign and that the president and top aides still have “full confidence” in Porter. Remarkably, the White House did not acknowledge or express concern about the severity of the allegations.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honour, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” White House chief of staff John Kelly said on Wednesday. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president feels similarly.
“Rob Porter has been effective in his role as staff secretary,” she said in a statement. “The president and chief of staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”
Allan Smith contributed to this report.