Several White House officials have expressed confusion over President Donald Trump’s conflicting remarks on the allegations made against his former staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned last Wednesday after his two former spouses accused him of physical and verbal abuse.
Though a smattering of top aides appeared on television Sunday to defend the White House’s response to the situation, other officials were left wondering how the President can go from reportedly calling Porter “a sick puppy” in private to being defensive of him and dismissive of the allegations in public. Officials say they are left wondering where Trump truly stands on this issue.
The West Wing has been mired in turmoil since the allegations against Porter first surfaced, and aides are still unable to provide a consistent explanation as to which officials knew about the accusations and when. CNN has reported that several senior administration officials, including chief of staff John Kelly, were aware of the allegations before they became public.
The President has contributed to the confusion with his differing remarks on Porter. Though White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said he was “disturbed” and legislative affairs director Marc Short maintained he was “saddened,” Trump has expressed a different sentiment publicly.
On Friday, he emphasized that Porter has maintained his innocence and was a stellar employee in the West Wing, while wishing him the best in his future endeavors. The next day he complained that a “mere allegation” could ruin someone without due process.
“People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he tweeted, adding, “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said Sunday the President may have been thinking of Steve Wynn, the former Republican National Committee finance chairman who stepped down recently amid dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct, when he wrote he tweet.
“When I saw the tweet – I know Rob Porter wasn’t mentioned – I wondered if the President was talking about his friend Steve Wynn, who has been accused and essentially condemned without any due process,” Mulvaney said on Fox News. “What you also saw there from the President is a certain sadness that somebody that he liked had let him down.”
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was also unable to answer Monday why the President has been publicly dismissive of the allegations against Porter if he is privately critical.
“I don’t know if he is going to say that publicly or not,” Gidley said in an interview on Fox News. “And I have not spoken with the President about this, but I can say, you know, we lean on a process here at the White House and quite frankly, as soon as we found out about this on Tuesday, Wednesday Rob Porter was gone. The President has been very clear, that all forms of abuse, all forms of battery against women are horrible and disgusting.”
The situation has presented another uncomfortable momen for a White House that has been largely out of step with the #MeToo movement that has swept the country. Trump, given the range of sexual harassment and assault allegations against him, has long struggled to respond to the nationwide focus on the mistreatment against women.
During the election, at least 15 women accused Trump of ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behavior around women. They came forward in the wake of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump released in October 2016 caught him saying on a hot mic: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”
But the White House – through spokeswoman Sarah Sanders and others – has dismissed all the allegations against him as old news that had been litigated during the 2016 campaign.
Trump told the British broadcaster Piers Morgan in January that he was not a feminist because he was “for everyone.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.