Trump breaks silence, decries domestic violence
U.S. President Donald Trump at last broke his silence on Wednesday to explicitly denounce domestic violence in the wake of allegations that a top White House aide had abused two former wives. Chief of staff John Kelly, under fire for mishandling the matter, stayed largely out of sight, his future in doubt and the White House in tumult.
The chaos surrounding the departure of aide Rob Porter put a harsh spotlight on Mr. Kelly, the retired general who was brought on last summer to instil militarylike discipline in the free-wheeling West Wing. Questions persisted about what and when Mr. Kelly knew about the abuse allegations against Mr. Porter, who resigned as staff secretary last week after the accusations became public.
West Wing aides have had their faith in the chief of staff shaken and morale has plunged to levels not seen since last spring’s firing of FBI director James Comey and the August uproar over Mr. Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
This White House scandal erupted initially without the President’s involvement. But Mr. Trump fed the fury last week when he defended Mr. Porter and questioned the #MeToo movement that sprang up in recent months to protest the mistreatment of many women.
In Mr. Trump’s first comments after Mr. Porter resigned, he praised his former aide. Next, he appeared to cast doubt on the exwives’ allegations by tweeting: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Finally, on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the words that Democrats and Republicans alike had been listening for.
“I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So now you hear it, but you all know it.”
The denunciation of domestic violence was greeted with relief by some West Wing aides. But a sense of unease about Mr. Kelly’s fate persisted.
For months, Mr. Kelly – with help from Mr. Porter – had established a semblance of stability in a White House often rattled by an unpredictable President. That has eroded in a week’s time, as accounts about the handling of the Porter matter continue to shift and some aides come to believe Mr. Kelly lied to save face and save his job.
Mr. Trump has complained to confidants that Mr. Kelly let the scandal spin out of control and that the constantly shifting narratives make the White House – and, by extension, Mr. Trump himself – look amateurish and incompetent, according to one person familiar with the discussions but not authorized to discuss them publicly.