WASHINGTON — President Trump praised the hard work of and wished well a top aide who resigned this week under allegations that he abused two ex-wives and was working without a top security clearance after a background investigation lasting more than a year.
White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, a former staffer for Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is currently dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, was married to Colbie Holderness in 2003 and Jennie Willoughby in 2009.
Holderness gave the Daily Mail a photo of herself with a black eye that she said was the result of Porter punching her on a vacation abroad. “I didn’t go the police because I was scared, I was in Italy alone and I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
“He was never physically abusive until our honeymoon and that floored me,” she said, adding that he was verbally and emotionally abusive while they were dating. “…He was angry because we weren’t having sex when he wanted to have sex and he kicked me.”
Holderness said Porter “would throw me down on the bed, then put his full body weight on top of me, then grind a knee or elbow into my body, expressing rage,” and later escalated to choking her. She said she first sought help from their Mormon church but wasn’t told “that what was happening was not OK” until she spoke with a secular counselor.
“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 declared in a statement Wednesday. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
Also on Wednesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly issued a pair of statements, the first defending Porter: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Kelly followed up later in the day: “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. 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. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”
Porter’s second wife, Willoughby, told CNN on Thursday that “cursing and insults” started about a month into their marriage. “Rob and I had been seeing a marriage counselor, and together had drafted a separation agreement, primarily because of his anger, and the verbal and emotional abuse. So, at that time, he was meant to be living in our home that we had recently purchased. He came to the apartment where I was staying and refused to leave, and after he did ultimately leave and I closed the door and locked it behind him, he returned a moment later and punched in the glass on the front door,” she said. “And because I did know that his anger was unpredictable, I didn’t know what he would do next.”
She called the police, who came and took a report and advised that she get a temporary protective order. She called it a “low-grade constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off.”
Willoughby and Holderness said a woman who was dating Porter in 2016 reached out to them and said she was in an abusive relationship. White House Counsel Don McGahn was reportedly contacted by an ex-girlfriend of Porter’s, who also worked in the administration, a year ago with domestic violence claims.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters Thursday that “it’s fair to say we all could have done better dealing with this over the last few days.” That admission did not reportedly sit well with Trump.
Asked about Porter during an event in the Oval Office today, Trump replied, “Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard.”
“I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. 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. And hopefully, he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump continued. “But it was very sad when we heard about it. And certainly, he’s also very sad now.”
“He also — as you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that,” the president added. “But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Indiana today at an event on preventing college sexual assault, said Trump’s response was like saying, “That ax murderer over there – he’s a great painter!”
“Is there any other crime where there could be the explanation the reason why we should not pay attention to the transgression is because they’re good at something?” Biden added.