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Trump Praises Work of Departing Aide Accused of Domestic Abuse


White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Feb. 5, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is very sad at the resignation of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who stepped down this week amid accusations by both his ex-wives that he abused them.

"He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. "He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you'll have to talk to him about that."

The president did not mention the former wives or their claims that Porter physically and psychologically abused them.

The revelations about Porter have raised fresh questions about the attitude of senior White House staff toward allegations of improper behavior by employees. It has also cast a spotlight on the practice of allowing staff without security clearances to work in and around the Oval Office.

FILE - White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) reminds U.S. President Donald Trump he had a bill to sign after he departed quickly following remarks at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S., Aug.12, 2017.
FILE - White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) reminds U.S. President Donald Trump he had a bill to sign after he departed quickly following remarks at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S., Aug.12, 2017.

Porter had only an interim clearance while holding one of the most sensitive jobs in the White House, where he controlled the flow of information to the president. A full clearance had been held up while the FBI investigated abuse allegations by his two former wives.

Trump on Friday wished his former aide well, noting that Porter had done "a very good job in the White House."

Porter's swift resignation followed publication in Britain's Daily Mail of a picture of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye allegedly suffered when Porter punched her in 2005 while the couple was on vacation in Italy.

Holderness and Porter's second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, were both quoted by the tabloid as saying Porter's consistent abuse was the reason for their respective divorces.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter (R) walks with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to board the Marine One on the South Lawn as they leave the White House in Washington, Feb. 2, 2018.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter (R) walks with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to board the Marine One on the South Lawn as they leave the White House in Washington, Feb. 2, 2018.

The Porter matter has intensified scrutiny of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former army general brought in to bring order to an administration that had been seen as chaotic under previous chief, Reince Priebus.

Media reports say Kelly apparently had prior knowledge of Porter's inappropriate behavior. Critics say Kelly should have been more concerned about employees working without security clearances.

Kelly has also come under fire for appearing to defend Porter when the allegation of abuse first surfaced. He issued a statement Wednesday calling Porter "a man of true integrity and honor."

"I can't say enough good things about him," Kelly wrote. "He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him."

Later, as the picture of Holderness with the black eye circulated on the internet, Kelly amended his original statement, saying, "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society."

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, in Washington, Feb. 8, 2018.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, in Washington, Feb. 8, 2018.

A day after Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke warmly of Porter, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah announced Thursday his departure with a terse comment: "He was terminated yesterday and his last day was yesterday." Shah characterized the departure as a resignation, however, rather than a firing.

Porter, a Rhodes scholar and Harvard-educated lawyer, played an important role in deciding which articles and policy proposals were given to the president for his review.

Porter had a hand in writing Trump's recent State of the Union address, and news photos and videos often showed images of him with other members of the White House inner circle. Several news agencies have reported that he is currently romantically linked with another close Trump aide, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks.

Porter issued a statement Wednesday denying the abuse accusations.

"These outrageous allegations are simply false," he said. "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. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Ken Bredemier contributed to this report.

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