Vice President Mike Pence said he was “appalled” by the allegations of domestic abuse against top White House staffer Rob Porter, and added that “the White House has acknowledged that they could have handled it better.”
The administration’s number two weighed in from South Korea on the controversy that has engulfed the White House this week, after allegations from Porter’s two ex-wives led to his resignation.
“I was appalled when I learned of the allegations against Rob Porter. The time that he resigned was the first time I became aware of the allegations of domestic abuse,” Pence told NBC News in an interview from Pyeongchang, where he is leading the United States Olympic delegation.
“There is no tolerance in the White House, no place in America for domestic abuse,” Pence said. “That being said, I think the White House has acknowledged that they could have handled it better.”
Pence added that when he returns to Washington, DC, he will look into the matter and share his “counsel with the President directly.”
The vice president’s comments come as chief of staff John Kelly and other top White House officials are facing questions about why they did not act to remove Porter from his position after they found out about the allegations of domestic abuse.
Senior aides knew for months about the allegations levied against Porter by his ex-wives, even as Porter’s stock in the West Wing continued to rise, multiple sources have told CNN. Porter denied the allegations but resigned on Wednesday.
Even after the allegations surfaced publicly, sources told CNN that Kelly did not urge Porter to resign or seek to force him out. Instead, the White House released a statement from Kelly praising Porter’s character.
It wasn’t until the uproar over the allegations grew and more details surfaced that Porter resigned and Kelly put out a second statement expressing concern about the allegations.
On Thursday, deputy press secretary Raj Shah issued a rare admission that the White House could have handled the Porter fiasco better.
“We all could have done better over the few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” Shah told reporters Thursday. “But you know this was a Rob Porter that I and many others have dealt with, that Sarah (Sanders) had dealt with, that other officials, including the chief of staff had dealt with. And the emerging reports were not reflective of the individual who we had come to know.”
On Friday, President Donald Trump called Porter’s departure “very sad” and said he wishes the ex-staffer “well.”
The President focused on Porter’s denial of the allegations that he struck his two-ex-wives while they were married.
“He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that,” Trump said. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
The NBC sit-down was not the first time Pence was asked about Porter. Early Thursday morning, he spoke with reporters during a press availability in Japan and was asked when he knew about the allegations and whether or not the President was being well-served by his staff. Pence did not answer the question.
“Well, let me say, we’re standing at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan; we’re on our way to the Olympics. And I learned, as I awoke this morning, of those developments. And so we’ll comment on any issues affecting White House staff when we get back to Washington,” the vice president said.
In a follow-up question, Pence was asked point-blank why he often seems “out of the loop” on major news. Again, Pence highlighted the generosity of the President for allowing him to represent America on the global stage, and reiterated that staffing issues would be dealt with when he returned to the White House.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.