The White House said Monday that Donald Trump supports domestic violence victims, after the president was criticized for sympathetic public statements about a former aide who resigned last week following allegations that he abused two ex-wives.
“The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all should be investigated thoroughly,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a briefing with reporters. “Above all, the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”
The president himself has said nothing about abuse victims since the allegations emerged last week that forced Staff Secretary Rob Porter to step down.
Sanders faced a flurry of questions about the White House’s handling of Porter, who resigned last week after his ex-wives’ accounts were published by the DailyMail.com and The Intercept. In a combative briefing with reporters, she read a statement expressing concern for domestic violence victims that she later said had been dictated by the president and described a new timeline leading up to Porter’s resignation.
Sanders said that the White House “learned of the extent of the situation” on Tuesday evening “and within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced.”
“We announced a transition was going to happen and within hours did it,” she said.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has come under internal and external criticism for his personal handling of the situation, told his subordinates on Friday to circulate a narrative that he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that the abuse allegations were credible. His evidence, one person familiar with the matter said, was a photo The Intercept published showing one ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye she said had been inflicted by Porter.
Kelly wrote a letter to White House employees following the incident to allay staff concerns, saying “we all take matters of domestic violence very seriously. Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society.”
Sanders said Monday that “a conversation took place within 40 minutes” of the White House “knowing the allegations,” but didn’t elaborate.
An Intercept reporter posted that photo on Twitter Tuesday evening before the publication’s full report was published Wednesday morning.
Porter said in a statement at about 1:42 p.m. Wednesday afternoon that he would resign but remain at the White House to “ensure a smooth transition.” Sanders, in her briefing that day, said Porter himself decided to resign and that his departure “won’t be immediate.”
Kelly issued a statement at about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday that complimented Porter and made no mention of his ex-wives or domestic violence.
After public and internal criticism, Kelly issued a revised statement at 9:27 p.m. on Wednesday. He said he was “shocked” by the allegations and that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
Porter’s last day at the White House was Thursday, and Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah described him as having been “terminated” in that day’s news briefing.
The various narratives of Porter’s departure reflect the White House’s struggle to explain why a key senior aide was allowed to remain at the White House for more than a year while at least some top staff including Kelly knew that a background check had turned up issues that could complicate his security clearance.
The president, meanwhile, has made only complimentary and supportive public statements about Porter and has not mentioned his ex-wives. On Saturday, Trump appeared to contest the #MeToo movement that has emerged in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men in government, media and business, posting on Twitter that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Trump himself faced misconduct allegations from more than a dozen women during his presidential campaign, all of which he and aides including Sanders have denied.
Pressed on why Trump hasn’t publicly voiced support for victims, Sanders said Monday: “It’s my job to speak on behalf of the president. I spoke to him and he relayed that message directly to me and I’m relaying it directly to you.”
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