Saturday 24 February 2018

Donald Trump’s sympathy for ex-aide accused of domestic abuse

It was the president’s first comment on the allegations against Rob Porter, who had been one of his most trusted staffers until this week.

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By Jonathan Lemire, Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin

Donald Trump has said that a former aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives did a “very good job” at the White House.

The US president added: “We certainly wish him well.”

Mr Trump emphasised that former staff secretary Rob Porter maintains his innocence, and the president made no mention of the women who have reported physical and emotional abuse.

It was his first comment on the allegations against Mr Porter, who had been one of his most trusted staffers until this week.

Mr Porter resigned after his ex-wives’ allegations became public.

Mr Trump offered his sympathy, saying: “It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career.”

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The president said he was sad to learn of the allegations, but added: “As you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that.”

The comments came the day after White House chief of staff John Kelly tried to assure staff that the Trump administration takes domestic violence “very seriously”.

But there are growing questions about how Mr Porter managed to maintain a position of high influence despite the allegations.

Mr Porter, who was arguably Mr Kelly’s closest aide, cleaned out his desk on Thursday.

The fallout from his resignation reverberated amid concerns about his access to classified information and about how long senior staffers had known about the allegations.

Mr Porter has denied the allegations, calling them “outrageous” and part of “a co-ordinated smear campaign”.

Though the accusations against Mr Porter became public this week, Mr Kelly learned last autumn that something was amiss with the staff secretary’s attempts to get a security clearance.

The chief of staff had sought information about the status of security clearance applications for senior aides, and it was then he learned there were allegations against Mr Porter from his ex-wives.

Mr Porter and Mr Kelly later discussed the allegations, and White House counsel Don McGahn was informed of at least some of the accusations at least four times, including in January 2017.

In November, one of Mr Porter’s ex-girlfriends called Mr McGahn to describe allegations of domestic abuse against him.

A White House official said staffers felt misled about how Mr Porter downplayed the allegations, both to Mr Kelly and Mr McGahn.

Mr Kelly himself faced criticism for initially defending his aide — only to later shift course after the publication of photos showing one of Mr Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.

“It’s fair to say we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah on Thursday.

Mr Kelly sent a memo to staff late on Thursday saying that “while we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence very seriously”.

He said: “Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society.”

When the allegations first emerged against Mr Porter a number of senior aides rallied around him, and the White House acknowledged that personal relationships may have played a role in their response.

Communications director Hope Hicks, who was dating the staff secretary, helped draft the original statements defending him.

Mr Kelly, meanwhile, was Mr Porter’s loudest defender, including in the first hours after the graphic photos of alleged abuse emerged.

Mr Shah said that Mr Trump was not aware until Tuesday of the accusations against Mr Porter, who was a frequent presence in the Oval Office and helped craft last week’s State of the Union address.

A number of politicians criticised Mr Kelly, and a leading women’s group called on him to resign.

Both of Mr Porter’s ex-wives have detailed the nature of the abuse they said they suffered at his hands and said they informed the FBI.

One of them, Jennifer Willoughby, posted about it in detail on Instagram in April 2017 and wrote of Mr Porter: “When I tried to get help, I was counselled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career.”

Press Association

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