WASHINGTON (TNS) — The White House Sunday defended the handling of domestic violence allegations against departed senior aide Rob Porter, but continued to hedge on when and in what detail the allegations of physical abuse made by his two ex-wives were known to his superiors.
Three top White House officials — legislative director Marc Short, budget director Mick Mulvaney and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway — said Trump had full confidence in White House chief of staff John Kelly, who initially stood by Porter after news reports that his ex-wives had told the FBI of violent episodes involving Porter.
The episode has put the White House in the awkward position of accepting as credible the allegations against Porter, even while Trump defends the right of "due process" for those accused of abusive behavior or sexual misconduct — a category into which the president himself falls.
More than a dozen women have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault over a period of many years. He says they are all lying and has dismissed a recording that captured him boasting in vulgar terms about such behavior as "locker room" talk.
The Porter controversy has brought intense scrutiny of Kelly's role in protecting him, but Conway, on ABC's "This Week," said no replacement was being sought for the former military man who has sought to impose discipline on a chaotic West Wing.
Trump "has full confidence in his current chief of staff," she said. "He also has full confidence in Hope Hicks, his communications director." News reports have said Hicks was romantically involved with Porter and helped craft an initial forceful White House statement defending him.
Porter, who resigned on Wednesday, has called the allegations of abuse false.
Short said he did not know "who knew what when" about the ex-wives' statements to the FBI regarding Porter, which apparently prevented him from obtaining a permanent security clearance.
More than a year into the Trump administration, Short also defended the White House's practice of allowing people with only interim clearances to access highly sensitive intelligence materials. Those staffers include Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser.
Short, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the White House did not "waive" security clearances and that Porter, who served as staff secretary, was considered completely trustworthy.
Both Conway and Short said the White House takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously — a point that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not make in responding to initial media queries about Porter.
Trump said in a Twitter post Saturday that "due process" should apply before a person was fired or otherwise penalized over alleged misconduct, though he did not mention Porter by name.
Conway, asked about that tweet in a separate interview on CNN's "State of the Union," said she had "no reason not to believe the women" who described Porter's abuse when interviewed by the FBI in connection with his security clearance.
"In this case, you have contemporaneous police reports, you have women speaking to the FBI under threat of perjury ... you have photographs, and when you look at all of that pulled together, Rob Porter did the right thing by resigning," Conway said.
Trump said on Twitter that "lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. ...There is no recovery for someone falsely accused." The president has also called Porter's exit "very sad."
Although Trump has not expressed any personal sympathy for Porter's ex-wives, Short said in the NBC interview that he believes Trump is "very disturbed" by the behavior described and "believes that the resignation was appropriate."
He also said, though, that the president was "shaped by a lot of false accusations against him (Trump) in the past."
Kelly and other senior aides were aware by late last fall of Porter's difficulty in obtaining a clearance because of accounts provided by his former wives, but it was not clear whether the chief of staff was aware of the extent of the alleged physical abuse.
In the CNN interview, Conway said Trump instructed her beforehand to say that he had "full faith in chief of staff John Kelly and that I am not actively searching for replacements."
One figure who has been floated as a potential replacement for Kelly, Mulvaney, sought to dispel any speculation he would be interested in becoming chief of staff.
"I don't want that job," Mulvaney said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I think the chief of staff is doing a really good job — and most importantly, I think the president thinks he's doing a great job as well."