Breaking his silence, Trump denounces domestic violence
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump broke his silence Wednesday after defending a former aide who was accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.
“I am totally opposed to domestic violence, and everybody here knows that,” the president said, more than a week after the allegations against Rob Porter first became public.
The president added: “Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So now you hear it, but you all know it.”
Trump had praised Porter, his former staff secretary, on Friday in his first comments about the allegations. And on Saturday, he appeared to cast doubt on the women’s allegations when he tweeted: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
The White House’s handling of the Porter situation has ensnared senior West Wing officials, calling into question the decision-making and candor of chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn.
Trump’s comments come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill launched a probe into how Porter was allowed to work at the White House under an interim security clearance despite allegations of spousal abuse.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent letters to the FBI and White House on Wednesday as his panel opened an investigation into the matter.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked Wednesday about how the White House has handled the Porter allegations and whether Trump needs to publicly condemn domestic violence.
“Clearly, we all should be condemning domestic violence,” Ryan told reporters. “And if a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there’s a breakdown in the system. There’s a breakdown in the vetting system, and that breakdown needs to be addressed.”
Ryan’s comments and word of the House probe followed a day after the FBI contradicted the White House over the Porter accusations. The FBI said it gave the Trump administration information on multiple occasions last year about Porter and that the investigation wrapped up in January.
That account by FBI Director Christopher Wray challenged the White House assertion that Porter’s background “investigation was ongoing” and officials first learned the extent of accusations against him only last week, just before he abruptly resigned.
Wray’s testimony Tuesday marked the latest development in a scandal that has called into question the judgment of senior members of the White House staff, put new stress on the administration’s already strained credibility with the public and drawn accusations of tonedeaf handling of abuse allegations.
The weeklong fallout from the allegations against Porter has thrown the West Wing into chaos not seen since the earliest months of the administration and has sparked new rounds of recriminations inside the White House.
Privately, officials acknowledge that the public timeline offered last week — that the administration first learned of the ex-wives’ charges against Porter last Tuesday — was flawed at best.
Several senior officials, including Kelly and McGahn, were aware of the broad allegations against Porter for months, officials said.
Kelly found out after requesting an update on the large number of senior staffers operating without full security clearances, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. McGahn told Kelly last fall there was concern about information in the background investigation involving Porter’s ex-wives, the official said, and Kelly expressed surprise that Porter had previously been married.
Despite that, Porter had an increasingly central West Wing role and was under consideration to be Trump’s deputy chief of staff, two officials said.
Rob Porter, the White House’s then-staff secretary, looks on as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Feb. 2.