In his first public comments since White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse, President Donald Trump praised Porter as a hard worker and a wished him well.
“I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. We certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a very tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House and we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him,” the president told reporters on Friday. Trump made a point of highlighting Porter’s denial of the abuse allegations.
Two women, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, both Porter’s ex-wives, claim that the former staff secretary physically and emotionally abused them. Holderness accuses Porter of punching her while they were on vacation in Italy, while the Willoughby says she was forced to file a restraining order against him. Holderness released photos of her face with a dark bruise around her eye.
Trump’s remarks come as serious questions are asked of high-ranking White House officials, including chief of staff John Kelly, about who knew of the allegations and managed the internal response to them.
Officials were reportedly aware of the abuse claims months ago, which surfaced during his background check for security clearance in June. They took no action to remove or suspend Porter and did not investigate the claims further. Porter resigned on Wednesday amid rising public pressure.
Trump only learned of the accusations this week, according to sources within the White House.
“It was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now,” Trump said, in comments reminiscent of his defense of disgraced Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. “He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that.”
Sources also report that Trump is not happy with White House communications director Hope Hicks, who was not only in a romantic relationship with Porter but drafted the official initial response to the abuse accusations without consulting the president.