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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press From left, White House staff secretary Rob Porter and chief of staff John Kelly join senior adviser Jared Kushner on the South Lawn in August. Porter resigned Wednesday over spousal abuse allegations that Kelly knew about.

Friday, February 09, 2018 1:00 am

Aide's resignation puts Kelly in hot seat

Chief of staff had known of abuse allegations against Porter

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Pressure mounted on White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday as questions swirled about his defense of a senior aide he fought to keep in a highly sensitive West Wing job despite accusations of spousal abuse from two ex-wives.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a member of President Donald Trump's inner circle and arguably Kelly's closest aide, cleaned out his desk Thursday. But the aftershocks of his resignation reverberated amid concerns about his access to classified information.

Kelly himself faced criticism for defending Porter only to belatedly reverse course hours after the publication of photos showing one of the ex-wives with a black eye.

“It's fair to say we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who faced a barrage of questions about Kelly during a press briefing.

Though the allegations against Porter became public this week, Kelly learned last fall that something was amiss with the staff secretary's attempts to get a security clearance, according to an administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The chief of staff had sought information about the status of security clearance applications for top aides, and it was then he learned there were allegations against Porter from his ex-wives, said the official. Porter and Kelly later discussed the allegations.

Shah said that Trump was not aware until Tuesday of the accusations against Porter, who was a frequent presence in the Oval Office and helped craft last week's State of the Union address. By the time the president was fully briefed of the claims against Porter on Wednesday, the once-rising White House star had already resigned, according to the official.

A number of lawmakers criticized Kelly, and a leading women's group called for the chief of staff to resign.

The president, for his part, has not signaled to allies that he is on the verge of making a change. But his frustration with Kelly has grown in recent weeks.

Trump has long chafed at the controls placed on him by Kelly and in recent weeks has fumed about the chief of staff to his circle of informal advisers, according to two people who speak to the president regularly but are not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Trump also was angry that Kelly did not bring the Porter allegations to him sooner, according to one of the people.

The White House was also put on the defensive about Porter's interim security clearance, fielding questions about how someone could handle some of the nation's most sensitive documents while potentially being ripe for blackmail. In Thursday's briefing, Shah outlined the background check procedure, which is run by the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies and was still underway for Porter.

John V. Berry, an attorney who represents government employees and contractors, said the FBI would have notified the White House about the allegations but noted that the interim clearance would not have prohibited Porter from having access to sensitive information.

For many staffers, Kelly had brought a much-needed sense of order to a White House that was frequently upended by the whims of a mercurial president. Kelly, along with Porter, helped organize the West Wing's policy and decision-making process and infused the staff with a clearer sense of purpose, officials said.

But that semblance of confidence has been eroded.

Kelly's claim Tuesday that some immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses” and register for government protections stunned some aides who questioned the chief of staff's political instincts and were dismayed by his language.