President Trump's top aide Rob Porter resigned Wednesday after two ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse, despite senior White House officials reportedly trying to convince him to “stay and fight.”
Though top officials in the Trump administration, including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, issued on-the-record statements of support this week, Trump accepted Porter's resignation, according to an unnamed White House official. Porter’s last day in office has not yet been decided, but it will be delayed "to ensure a smooth transition," he told Politico in a statement.
In his role as White House staff secretary since January 2017, Porter was responsible for reviewing all information that went to the president and for Trump's schedule. The FBI reportedly was informed of the abuse allegations while conducting a background check, which could explain why he did not have a top security clearance.
The story erupted Tuesday when Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second ex-wife, who married him in 2009, told the Daily Mail that he had been “verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive,” to her, leading them to divorce just a year after their wedding.
“'[It happened] just after our first anniversary…It was a glass shower door, he opened it and dragged me by my shoulders out of the shower to yell,” Willoughby said.
In a follow-up story in The Intercept published Feb. 7, Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, also alleged Porter had physically assaulted her during their five-year marriage, and provided a photograph of facial bruises she said were caused by Porter during a vacation in Florence in 2005.
“He only punched me once, in the eye,” Holderness told the outlet. “He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face. I think he was shocked that he had lost control to that extent.”
“He graduated to choking me, not ever hard enough to make me pass out, or frankly to leave marks, but it was frightening and dehumanizing,” Holderness added.
When asked why she hadn’t called the police, Holderness said she was worried she wouldn’t be taken seriously.
“I was too bewildered by the whole thing,” she said. “Plus, I was too afraid to call the police during the entirety of our marriage, thinking they would consider the whole thing ridiculous and wouldn’t take me seriously.” She added, “Believe me, not calling the police is something I regret.”
VICE News was not able to independently verify either woman's allegations, but Willoughby, who told the Daily Mail she filed for an emergency protective order against Porter in 2010, provided photographs of the document to the tabloid. The order also prevented Porter from obtaining an FBI clearance, Politico reports.
Porter, a lesser-known figure in the Trump administration until this week, had previously worked for several Republican politicians, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Rob Portman, and Sen. Mike Lee, all of Utah. He denied the allegations but did not explain further.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said Wednesday in a statement obtained by Politico. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
Porter was recently romantically linked to White House communications director Hope Hicks, apparently kicking off the firestorm of allegations. Willoughby, in her account, stopped short of criticizing his role in the White House.
“I want to be very clear when I say this,” Willoughby said. “I don’t want to be married to him. I would not recommend anyone to date him or marry him. But I definitely want him in the White House and the position he is in. I think his integrity and ability to do his job is impeccable. And the majority of the issues he suffers from are very personal and intimate.”
Several officials in the Trump administration issued statements in support of Porter after the Daily Mail’s story was published, but before The Intercept published its story.
Chief of Staff John Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor” and said “I can’t say enough good things about him.” (According to Politico, Kelly was aware of the allegations before the story published, because they had prevented Porter from obtaining an FBI clearance.)
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also told the Daily Mail, “'I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character."
But at least one Republican has reconsidered his stance: Sen. Hatch, who said Tuesday that “the country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter,” and deemed the Daily Mail story a “vile attack on such a decent man,” and a “cynical campaign to discredit his character,” issued a new statement after The Intercept story was published.
“I am heartbroken by today’s allegations. In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional, and respectful,” he said in a follow-up statement to the Washington Post. “My staff loved him and he was a trusted adviser. I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent. I am praying for Rob and those involved.”
Neither Sanders nor Porter responded to requests for comment on the story, The Intercept reported.
Cover: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (left) and Staff Secretary Rob Porter (right) follow President Donald Trump as he walks to board Marine One to head to Missouri to push the Republican tax plan, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)