White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a mostly unknown but deeply influential aide who spends almost every day by President Donald Trump’s side, said Wednesday he plans to resign following abuse allegations from his ex-wives.
In a pair of reports published by the Daily Mail, Porter’s two ex-wives detailed episodes of alleged verbal and physical abuse. The Daily Mail published a copy of a protective order obtained by Porter’s second wife in 2010, and later published photographs of Porter’s first wife with a black eye she said came from Porter punching her.
“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 in a statement on Wednesday announcing his plans to leave the White House. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
A senior administration official said White House chief of staff John Kelly had been aware of the 2010 protective order, which prevented Porter from getting a full security clearance. The official said Kelly considered trying to push Porter out of his role but never did.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “Consistent with the practice of past administrations, issues related to an individual’s suitability are reviewed through a thorough and lengthy background check process,” she said. “Rob Porter has been effective in his role as Staff Secretary. The president and chief of staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”
Sanders also said Porter wasn’t pressured by the White House to resign.
Kelly released a separate statement calling Porter “a man of true integrity and honor.”
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Porter said he would not leave immediately, to “ensure a smooth transition.” The White House has not yet decided on Porter’s last day, according to a White House aide.
Derek Lyons, the deputy staff secretary, is seen as a possible replacement for Porter, according to two administration officials. But the White House aide stressed that no decisions have been made.
As staff secretary, Porter handled every document signed by the president. A former chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), he also became the lead White House policy coordinator on a number of key issues. He organized weekly meetings with senior administration officials and Cabinet secretaries to bridge internal divides among Trump’s team on trade policy.
Porter has also been involved romantically with White House communications director Hope Hicks, according to multiple people familiar with their relationship. TheDaily Mail recently photographed the pair having dinner together.
Many White House aides were stunned by the revelations about Porter, who had a reputation as a mild-mannered aide whose demeanor in the West Wing paled in comparison to those of other often-bombastic characters who have cycled in out and of the building since Trump took office.
People close to Trump have been beset by allegations of sexual and physical impropriety since before the 2016 election.
During the campaign, then-manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with assaulting a reporter after he grabbed Breitbart correspondent Michelle Fields at a campaign rally. The charges were later dropped. POLITICO reported in December that Lewandowski slapped singer Joy Villa, a Trump supporter, on the behind at a Trump International Hotel party in Washington.
Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon was charged in 1996 with misdemeanor domestic violence and battery while living in Santa Monica, California. Those charges were subsequently dropped.
Trump, who was infamously caught before the election on an “Access Hollywood” tape bragging about groping women, faced multiple claims of unwanted advances during the campaign. The president and his aides have strongly denied the allegations.
In January, adult film star Stephanie Clifford, better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, spoke openly about a 2006 consensual tryst with Trump weeks after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump paid Clifford $130,000 shortly before the election.
Amid renewed claims from three women who said Trump ogled or groped them years ago, Sanders said in December: “The American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.”
The White House has also continued to consider finding a role for former Carl’s Jr. head Andy Puzder, who withdrew from consideration to be labor secretary in 2017 after POLITICO reported that his ex-wife had accused him of domestic abuse during a 1990 appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Puzder denies the allegations, and his ex-wife subsequently defended him and said she regretted appearing on the show.
Puzder joined several other former aides and supporters of the president in the Oval Office late last month to discuss Trump’s State of the Union speech, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Porter worked closely with Kelly to help control the information flow to Trump — a top priority for Kelly, who has sought to limit who has access to the president.
Senior staff huddled on Tuesday night to coordinate a defense of Porter, with Kelly and Sanders both providing on-the-record statements to the Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail published a story late Tuesday night that included an on-the-record interview with Jennifer Willoughby, one of Porter’s ex-wives, in which she said he was verbally abusive and, in 2010, pulled her out of the shower by the shoulders to yell at her. She was granted the protective order against Porter in 2010 “because he violated their separation agreement at the time, and would not leave their apartment,” according to the Daily Mail.
Willoughby, in her comments to the Daily Mail, nonetheless maintained that Porter shouldn’t be fired.
“I don’t want to be married to him. I would not recommend anyone to date him or marry him,” she told the Daily Mail. “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.”
Separately, a reporter for the Intercept tweeted early Wednesday morning that he had conducted an interview with Porter’s other ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, in which she alleges he physically abused her. Holderness provided the Intercept with photographs of a bruised eye “from a vacation they took together in Florence, Italy,” according to the tweet.
The Daily Mail published a second story on Wednesday that included an interview with Holderness in which she said Porter punched her in the face during the Italy trip. The Daily Mail also published the photo of Holderness with a bruised eye.
A Harvard University graduate and former Rhodes scholar, Porter previously worked for Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mike Lee of Utah.
“Sen. Lee was shocked and saddened to read the Daily Mail story,” a Lee spokesman said Wednesday.
Hatch, in a statement, condemned the behavior described in the Daily Mail reports.
“In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful,” Hatch said. “I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“I am praying for Rob and those involved,” Hatch added.
Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
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