WASHINGTON (CN) – White House chief of staff John Kelly admitted Friday that the administration botched its handling of domestic abuse allegations against a former top aide to the president, but insisted he had done “nothing to even consider resigning over.”
Rob Porter resigned his position as White House staff secretary on Feb. 6, after two of his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse.
Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, first told the Daily Mail that Porter abused her and that she took the step of filing for an emergency protective order against him.
Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, also accused Porter of punching her in the face during a vacation in Italy, revealing pictures of herself with a black eye she says Porter gave her.
Holderness told the Daily Mail it wasn’t the only time Porter had abused her, as he also kicked her during their honeymoon and on multiple occasions threw her down and choked her.
Porter denied the claims in a statement announcing his resignation on Feb. 7, calling them a “coordinated smear campaign.”
Speaking with reporters at the White House on Friday, Kelly said he only learned of the allegations when reporters began asking about them, and that what he heard was “a shock” for him. He said a White House press release that praised Porter came out after the they learned of the first accusation, which Kelly understood at the time to be of verbal abuse and a “messy divorce.”
“The man we all knew, it was an absolute shock,” Kelly said Friday. “His religion, his focus on work, etc., it was just a shock to us all.”
Kelly said the public “mix-up” over the timeline of Porter’s departure happened on Feb. 7 when Porter came back to the White House to formally finish the process of leaving his job.
“We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning,” Kelly said. “It was confusing.”
Kelly confirmed FBI Director Chris Wray’s comments that the FBI first sent accusations about Porter to White House security in March 2017, though Kelly insisted the security office had not finished evaluating the information the FBI sent by the time Porter left.
Kelly’s briefing to reporters comes days after Bloomberg reported more than 30 White House officials were losing their security clearances, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law.
Kelly told reporters he learned last September that “more people than I was comfortable with” were working with interim security clearances, leading Kelly to ask the FBI to help get the security clearance issues fixed.