Staff secretary Rob Porter was allowed to serve as an aide to Donald Trump despite the fact that White House officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Counsel Donald McGahn, knew that Porter’s two ex-wives had made domestic violence allegations against him, according to a Thursday report.
The Washington Post reports that the allegations against Porter, which include kicking, punching, strangulation, and verbal abuse, were known to White House officials for months. Kelly, who defended Porter prior to his resignation, knew about the intimate partner violence as early as the fall. Despite the knowledge, as well as the FBI’s delay in granting Porter security clearance, Kelly gave “Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.”
McGahn reportedly learned of the allegations against Porter in January 2017. In June, the FBI informed the White House of some of its findings during Porter’s background check. Still, McGahn did not act, even when it became increasingly clear that the FBI was taking the domestic violence allegations against Porter seriously. In September, the FBI informed McGahn that Porter’s security clearance was being delayed because of those allegations. The Post notes, too, that in November one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends contacted McGahn and told him about the allegations against Porter which, by this time, were well-known in the White House:
Talk about Porter’s past started spreading throughout the White House after a former girlfriend told McGahn in November that he should investigate the abuse alleged by the ex-wives, according to people familiar with the matter. The former girlfriend, who also works in the administration, declined to comment Thursday. Porter is having a romantic relationship with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and that relationship led the former girlfriend to come forward, according to White House officials. Hicks helped draft some of the early White House responses to the allegations against Porter.
Though McGahn and Kelly have known about the allegations against Porter for months, the president learned of them this week, after the Daily Mail published interviews with Porter’s ex-wives Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby.
The White House has downplayed its knowledge of Porter’s history. During a Thursday press briefing, White House spokesman Raj Shah said that the White House was relying on the background investigation to sort out the allegations made by Holderness and Willoughby. “The truth must be determined, and that was what was going on with Rob Porter. His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah told reporters.
Meanwhile, Porter was also working to minimize the domestic violence allegations. In private, Porter reportedly told acquaintances that Holderness’s black eye—photographs of which were published earlier this week—was the result of an argument over a vase. During the argument, the vase somehow managed to hit Holderness in the face, leaving a black eye. Holderness told the Daily Mail and The Intercept that Porter punched her in the face during a vacation in Florence, Italy.
In a Thursday interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Willoughby said that Porter asked her to “downplay” an April 2017 blog post she wrote detailing her abusive relationship with Porter. Willoughby said that Porter had asked her to “emphasize more the relationship that he and I have now as opposed to what I experienced in our marriage.” She added that she was “worried” for Hope Hicks.
Porter has denied the allegations made by both Holderness and Willoughby, characterizing them as a “vile” “smear campaign.” Porter has been vocally defended by his former employer, Senator Orrin Hatch, as well as Kelly. Earlier this week, Kelly called Porter a “man of true integrity and honor.”
In a follow-up memo sent to White House staffers on Thursday, Kelly said that the White House takes “matters of domestic violence seriously.” “Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society,” he added.