Senior aides to President Donald Trump knew for months about allegations of domestic abuse levied against top White House staffer Rob Porter by his ex-wives, even as Porter’s stock in the West Wing continued to rise, multiple sources told CNN on Wednesday.
Porter denied the allegations but resigned on Wednesday.
A scramble ensued inside the West Wing to defend him when the claims became public this week, the sources said. That effort continues even after his resignation.
Senior White House officials were aware for months of the allegations made against Trump’s staff secretary, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday after Porter resigned.
Trump himself first learned of the allegations this week, two sources familiar with the matter said. He was upset when shown reports of the abuse, which first emerged on Tuesday. His daughter Ivanka Trump, serving as a White House senior adviser, was also deeply disturbed by the allegations, particularly by photographs of the alleged abuse, the sources said.
Porter’s ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check, they told CNN’s MJ Lee on Wednesday. A year into the administration, Porter does not hold a security clearance.
By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides – including chief of staff John Kelly – both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff.
Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address. He traveled instead of Kelly to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. And he was one of a select group of aides who shook Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hand during a state visit to Beijing in November.
The White House declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Kelly’s knowledge of the allegations against Porter.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Kelly said he was “shocked” by the “new allegations” against Porter.
“There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation,” Kelly said. “I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”
Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, and Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, both said their ex-husband’s consistent abuse was the reason for their respective divorces.
Porter denied the allegations in a statement issued in the wake of his resignation.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in his statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”