A key aide to U.S. President Donald Trump is defending the White House’s handling of spousal abuse allegations leveled against his former staff secretary before he resigned last week.
Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN on Sunday that “it’s very clear” that Rob Porter, who helped oversee paperwork and documents being sent to the U.S. leader and helped draft his recent State of the Union address, “did the right thing” by resigning after his two ex-wives offered evidence that he physically abused them during their marriages.
But Conway pushed back on numerous news media reports that chief of staff John Kelly and White House lawyer Donald McGahn knew for months from FBI security background checks about the allegations the women made against Porter but did not act to remove him. Porter’s bid to get a permanent security badge was blocked by the allegations, but he continued to hold his job under an interim clearance.
Conway said she was not privy to the FBI security investigations, but said she had “no reason to not believe the women.” Conway said she was “horrified, very shocked” to learn of the accusations against the Oxford-and Harvard-educated Porter because of her highly professional relations with him inside the White House.
A second White House aide, speechwriter David Sorenson, also abruptly quit Friday after his former wife claimed he was violent and emotionally abusive during their marriage, allegations he adamantly denied, claiming his former wife abused him.
Colbie Holderness, the first of Porter’s two ex-wives, produced a widely published photo of her with a black eye she said she sustained when Porter punched her in the face during a vacation in Italy in 2005. Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, obtained a restraining order against him in 2010.
Porter was a key aide to Kelly, a former Marine Corps general. Kelly reportedly told Trump he would be willing to resign in the fallout over his handling of the Porter security investigation.
But Conway said the president assured her ahead of her television interview that he has “full faith” in Kelly’s White House performance and was “not actively searching to replace” him. She quoted Trump as saying that Kelly was “doing a great job.”
In a rare admission of error last week, White House spokesman Raj Shah said “we all could have done better” in handling the Porter case. He said that Trump took the issue of violence against women “very seriously.”
But Trump on Friday never mentioned the women in a statement to reporters, instead wishing Porter a good career in the future.
“He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
On Saturday, Trump took a similar stance, appearing to side with men accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct, raising doubts about the #MeToo movement in the United States, in which dozens of prominent men have been fired or forced out of powerful, high profile jobs after women accused them of unwanted sexual advances.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Trump said in a Twitter remark. “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?”
While some men have maintained their innocence — including Trump, who has been accused by a dozen women of unwanted sexual advances in the decades before he ran for the presidency — others have admitted to their misbehavior, resigned from their jobs, or have been fired after corporate investigations verified the accusations against them.