President Trump has full confidence in chief of staff John Kelly despite his disputed handling of spousal abuse allegations leveled against top aide Rob Porter, White House officials said Sunday.
Rallying to Kelly’s defense, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and legislative affairs director Marc Short said the president was not seeking new candidates for the job.
“He says General Kelly is doing a great job and that he has full faith in him,” Conway said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Short, meanwhile, referred to Kelly as “an American hero,” saying on NBC’s Meet the Press that Trump had “absolute confidence” in Kelly.
He also dismissed accounts that Kelly had offered his resignation.
Domestic abuse allegations engulfed the White House last week after it was disclosed that Porter’s two ex-wives had reported incidents of physical and emotional abuse involving the White House staff secretary while he was being considered for a security clearance. Kelly was aware of the allegations well before they were publicly disclosed.
Porter, who has denied the allegations, resigned last week, and his departure was quickly followed by David Sorensen, a White House speechwriter, also accused of domestic abuse. Sorensen has denied his former wife’s claims.
Yet the White House’s handling of the matters, specifically Porter, has largely focused on Kelly. As Porter announced his resignation mid-day Wednesday, Kelly issued a statement calling him “a man of true integrity and honor.” Hours later, after pictures surfaced showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye, Kelly issued a more critical statement saying he “was shocked” by “the new allegations released today.”
Kelly said in that second statement that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society,” but he added that “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”
Short acknowledged Sunday that the Porter matter exposed “some lack of communication” within the White House, but he said the well-regarded aide was “out” shortly after officials became aware of the extent of the abuse allegations.
“We’re all saddened by this,” Short said.
As questions continued to swirl over how the two officials were permitted to join the White House staff, Trump has appeared to side with the accused men. He tweeted Saturday that lives were being destroyed by a “mere allegation.”
“Is there no such thing any longer as due process?” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Trump’s comments fly in the face of a national movement that has swept the nation — from Hollywood to corporate America — -encouraging women to come forward with their accounts of sexual violence.
The firestorm also comes in the wake of congressional efforts to address sexual harassment and assault on Capitol Hill, including the House passing a bill last week that would require members to pay settlements for claims rather than taxpayers.
Trump, himself accused by multiple women of past sexual misconduct, has expressed his support for others accused of abusive behavior, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
“What about the women?”
“What about the women? … Their lives have been scarred forever,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who helps lead an effort to address sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, told USA TODAY. “Or the fact that domestic violence has no place in our society and no place in the White House. That should have been the statement.”
Speier says Trump’s failure to defend accusers runs contrary to the momentum behind more people speaking out against violence against women.
“You have all of these seeds that have been germinating for a long time … and have sprouted to the surface, so they’re in full bloom now,” she said of the Women’s March, Me Too movement and the downfall of high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct.