WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that a former aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives had done a “very good job” at the White House, adding, “We certainly wish him well.”
Trump emphasized that former staff secretary Rob Porter maintains his innocence, and the president made no mention of the women who have reported physical and emotional abuse.
It was Trump’s first comment on the allegations against Porter, who has been one of his most trusted staffers until this week. Porter resigned after his ex-wives’ allegations became public.
Trump offered sympathy for Porter, saying, “It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career.”
Trump said he was sad to learn of the allegations, but added: “As you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that.”
The comments came the day after White House chief of staff John Kelly tried to assure staff that the Trump administrations takes domestic violence “very seriously” amid mounting questions about how Porter managed to maintain a position of high influence despite the allegations.
Porter, who was arguably White House chief of staff John Kelly’s closest aide, cleaned out his desk on Thursday.
The fallout from his resignation reverberated amid concerns about his access to classified information and about how long senior staffers had known about the allegations.
Porter has denied the allegations, calling them “outrageous” and part of “a coordinated smear campaign.”
Though the accusations against Porter became public this week, Kelly learned last fall that something was amiss with the staff secretary’s attempts to get a security clearance, according to an administration official who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The chief of staff had sought information about the status of security clearance applications for top aides, and it was then he learned there were allegations against Porter from his ex-wives, said the official.
Porter and Kelly later discussed the allegations. The official said White House counsel Don McGahn was apprised of at least some of the accusations at least four times, including in January 2017, the official said.
That includes in November, when one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends called McGahn to describe allegations of domestic abuse against him.
The person stressed that the FBI had at no point revoked Porter’s security clearance, which they could have done.
The White House official said staffers felt misled about how Porter downplayed the allegations, both to Kelly and McGahn.
Kelly himself faced criticism for initially defending his aide — only to later shift course after the publication of photos showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.
“It’s fair to say we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who faced a barrage of questions about Kelly during a press briefing Thursday.
Kelly sent a memo to staff late Thursday in which he wrote that “while we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence very seriously. Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society.”
When the allegations first emerged against Porter a number of senior aides rallied around him, and the White House acknowledged that personal relationships may have played a role in their response.
Communications Director Hope Hicks, who was dating the staff secretary, helped draft the original statements defending him, according to three current and former White House officials.
Shah said Thursday that Hicks later “recused” herself from some aspects of the matter, but it was unclear from what. Kelly, meanwhile, was Porter’s loudest defender, including in the first hours after the graphic photos of alleged abuse emerged.
Only later did the chief of staff, who had argued for Porter to keep his post, release a second statement in which he said he supported Porter’s resignation.
Shah said Trump was not aware until Tuesday of the accusations against Porter, who was a frequent presence in the Oval Office and helped craft last week’s State of the Union address.
By the time the president was fully briefed of the claims against Porter on Wednesday, the once-rising White House star had already resigned, according to the official.
A number of lawmakers criticized Kelly, and a leading women’s group called for the chief of staff to resign.
The president, for his part, has not signaled to allies that he is on the verge of making a change. But his frustration with Kelly has grown in recent weeks.