White House Counsel Don McGahn knew for a year about damaging accusations against staff secretary Rob Porter by both of his ex-wives — yet kept him on the job without investigating the claims, The Washington Post reported late Thursday.
Chief of Staff John Kelly also learned in the fall that the domestic violence allegations was holding up Porter’s security clearance, according to the Post, citing unnamed sources. Porter continued to have access to classified information and to control the flow of information to President Donald Trump.
Porter resigned Wednesday, but denied the abuse accusations.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” 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.”
Porter reportedly has been dating White House communications director Hope Hicks, who helped write statements this week defending him.
McGahn and Kelly now face questions about why they allowed Porter to stay in his high-level post despite the accusations.
McGahn wanted Porter to stay in his role because he believed Porter was a “steadying” influence, sources told the Post. McGahn continued to support Porter even though he later learned that the allegations were serious enough to complicate Porter’s security clearance, and was contacted by one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends, who also accused Porter of being violent, according to the Post. The ex-girlfriend was working in the administration.
Kelly defended Porter after the accusations were reported, calling him a man of “honor” and a “trusted professional,” and implored him not to resign. After photos were published of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye that she told the FBI that Porter had given her in 2005, Kelly said he was “shocked” by the “new” allegations.
Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, said he emotionally, mentally and physically abused her. She said Porter once visited her in her home, violating a restraining order, and broke a window with his fist in anger, the Post reported. Willoughby said Porter called her, angry he had not yet received his security clearance, after she spoke to the FBI.
Willoughby told Anderson Cooper Thursday that Porter called her recently, asking her to release a statement “downplaying” a blog post she wrote about abuse she said she endured during their marriage. Willoughby also told Cooper that Porter was intelligent and could be kind, but he was also “deeply troubled and angry and violent.”
Both women said they divorced Porter because of his violence. Both also said they were contacted in 2016 by a women who said she was a girlfriend of Porter and was being abused by him, CNN reported.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Wednesday that administration officials relied on the FBI’s security review to address the matter.
“We should not short-circuit an investigation just because allegations are made, unless they could compromise national security, or interfere with operations at the White House,” Shah said.