In a rare admission of error, a White House spokesman has said “we all could have done better” in handling the case of Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned Wednesday after his two former wives accused him of emotional and physical abuse.
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 sustained 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.
Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah Thursday called the allegations “serious and disturbing.” He told reporters President Donald Trump takes the issue of violence against women “very seriously” and is saddened by the allegations against Porter.
The White House drew harsh media scrutiny for its initial reaction to the abuse allegations.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Chief of Staff John Kelly at first defended Porter. Sanders gave a vague answer about when Porter would end his high-profile White House position.
Kelly issued a statement Wednesday calling Porter “a man of true integrity and honor. I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
But Thursday, Shah said Porter “was terminated yesterday and his last day was yesterday.” He characterized the departure as a resignation, however, rather than a firing.
Kelly had earlier amended his original statement Wednesday, saying, “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
Full scope of allegations
Shah told reporters at Thursday’s news briefing that Trump had not been aware of the full scope of the allegations until Wednesday, when the photograph showing Porter's ex-wife's black eye was published.
“He, like many of us, did not see that in Rob Porter, did not see what these allegations have brought forward. So he was surprised by it. He was disheartened by it. He was saddened by it,” Shah said.
Shah did not explain why Porter had been working in the White House inner sanctum on a temporary security clearance. The aide’s application for a permanent clearance had been held up while the FBI investigated the abuse allegation.
“His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah said. "His (security) clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
Porter, a Rhodes scholar and Harvard-educated lawyer, worked closely with Chief of Staff Kelly in deciding which articles and policy proposals were given to Trump 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 family friend, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks.
Porter issued a statement Wednesday denying the 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 Bredemeier contributed to this report