Top White House aides on Sunday countered criticism over the Trump administration’s handling of allegations that White House staff secretary Rob Porter abused his ex-wives.
“The result is that, one week ago, Rob Porter was a top aide to President Trump, and today he is out of the White House,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said in an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Conway told CNN she was “horrified” by the allegations, adding, “I have no reason not to believe these women.”
“In this case, you have contemporaneous police reports, you have women speaking to the FBI under threat of perjury … you have photographs, and when you look at all of that pulled together, Rob Porter did the right thing by resigning,” she said.
Conway also said the President is “very disturbed” by Porter’s alleged behavior; White House legislative affairs director Marc Short echoed that characterization on Sunday.
“In talking with the President, I think he’s saddened about what happened with Rob,” Short said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” “I think he’s very disturbed by it, and I think he’s very disappointed. I think he believes that the resignation was appropriate.”
But Conway and Short’s comments stand in stark contrast to remarks from President Donald Trump, who tweeted Saturday: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. … There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Trump also told reporters on Friday that Porter’s departure was “very sad” and that “he did a very good job while he was in the White House,” but he did not express sympathy for the women Porter allegedly abused, instead focusing on Porter’s claim of innocence.
The accusations of domestic abuse against Porter first came to light last Tuesday. Two of Porter’s ex-wives say they suffered years of abuse, including physical altercations. Porter said he would be resigning from his role at the White House shortly after and has called the allegations “outrageous” and “simply false.”
Porter’s ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check, they told CNN. By early fall of 2017, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides – including chief of staff John Kelly – that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining his security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff, and instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing.
Both Conway and Short defended how the White House handled the situation. Short told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Kelly had learned the full extent of the allegations last Tuesday, “and by Wednesday Rob Porter was out.” Conway told CNN’s “State of the Union” that people “should look at the result of how this (was) handled.”
In the wake of criticism over how the allegations were handled, Kelly made it clear last Friday that he would resign if the President wanted him to, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
However, Short told “Meet the Press” that Kelly had not offered his resignation, and Conway told CNN anchor Jake Tapper that Kelly’s job is not in jeopardy.
“I spoke to the President last night, and I told him I would be with you today,” Conway said on “State of the Union.” He said, ‘Tell Jake I have full faith in Chief of Staff John Kelly and that I am not actively searching for replacements.’ He said, ‘I saw that all over the news today – I have faith in him,’ and he does.”
She later said of the President: “He says Gen. Kelly is doing a great job and that he has full faith in him, and I think he looks at the full measure of all of us.”
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Porter “wasn’t entirely forthcoming” with Kelly when the allegations were brought forward.
“I think the photographs took everybody by surprise,” Mulvaney said, referencing a photo of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.
“I hear that I’m being considered, in the media at least, for replacing the chief of staff. You think that maybe someone would have mentioned it to me. No one’s talked to me at all. Not a single time,” Mulvaney said.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on “State of the Union” later Sunday morning that Kelly, whom he considers a friend, should try to stay out of the press as Porter’s story unfolds.
“I encourage John to hunker down and do his job, fewer public statements,” Johnson said.
Johnson refused to say whether he would have fired Porter if he were in a similar situation, but noted that “sometimes you have to make the hard choice to move on and find somebody else.”
“When you’re in public office, you have to assume that sooner or later everything is going to get out … and some sort of calculation was made there,” he added.
CNN’s Kevin Bohn, Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Dan Merica contributed to this report.