President Donald Trump on Friday spoke for the first time about the resignation of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who stepped down this week after allegations of abuse from both of his ex-wives became publicly known.
Trump said “it was very sad” to learn about Porter’s alleged abuse, but pointed out that Porter has denied the claims.
“As you probably know, he says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Trump said he was “surprised” by the news, but praised Porter’s work in the White House and wished 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.”
Porter resigned Wednesday amid reports that described his alleged abuse against his ex-wives. One of the women released photos of a black eye she says she sustained in 2005 during a fight with Porter while on vacation in Italy.
Porter denied those allegations, calling them “outrageous” and part of “a coordinated smear campaign.”
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly initially defended Porter, calling him a “man of integrity.” Later, Kelly claimed he was “shocked” by the allegations after seeing the photos.
Politico reported Wednesday that Kelly previously knew about the allegations, saying he was aware of a protective order against Porter that prevented him from getting full security clearance. CNN also reported that Kelly and other White House officials knew about the allegations months before Porter resigned.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Kelly, who’s been under fire for his handling of Porter’s resignation, instructed White House aides to communicate a different version of events than what public record shows, in order to make it appear that “he took immediate and direct action.”
According to Politico, Kelly had learned in recent weeks that the FBI would recommend denying Porter and several other White House aides a full security clearance. Kelly reportedly had plans to fire those aides, but hadn’t moved to do so before this week.
ABC and NBC have reported that Trump is angry with Kelly’s handling of the situation and has discussed potential replacements for him. ABC reported Friday that Kelly told Trump he’d be willing to resign. However, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Friday that Kelly “has not offered his resignation to the president.”
The White House’s handling of the Porter accusations, and Trump’s nod on Friday to Porter’s claims of innocence, echo other instances where the administration has stood behind men accused of abuse. In a Senate race in Alabama last year, Trump endorsed Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of child molestation. He attacked one of Moore’s accusers at a rally days before the election.
There’s also the issue of Trump himself, who’s repeatedly denied claims of sexual misconduct from more than 20 women.
This story has been updated throughout.
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