On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) defended a former staffer—Rob Porter, the Trump White House’s staff secretary—accused of domestic abuse. On Wednesday afternoon, he walked back his defense. But on Wednesday night, after Porter resigned, Hatch reversed course again and resumed his defense, saying in part, “He’s basically a good person.”
Porter served as Hatch’s chief of staff before going to work for President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, the Daily Mail published accusations from Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, accusing Porter of physically and verbally abusing her.
Porter allegedly pulled her naked out of the shower not long after their first anniversary, and the Mail also published a 2010 police complaint detailing an incident in which Porter allegedly punched a glass door at their home. Willoughby then filed a temporary protective order.
On Wednesday, the Mail reported similar accusations from Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, who said Porter physically abused her on their honeymoon. Holderness provided photos of her facial injuries to the media. The women both also told CNN Wednesday that a third woman, a girlfriend of Porter’s, contacted them for advice about how to deal with Porter’s “repeated abuse.”
On Tuesday, after the Mail published Willoughby’s accusations, The Intercept contacted Hatch for comment on the allegations against his former chief of staff.
“It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man,” Hatch said. “Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.”
The senator changed his tune after Holderness’ account came to light Wednesday, after Porter resigned from his role in the White House (despite, reportedly, encouragement from senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly that Porter “stay and fight”).
Rob Porter was Orrin Hatch's former chief of staff.
Tuesday: Statement from Hatch (via White House) says it was “incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man”
Today's Hatch statement says he is heartbroken and didn't know about abuse allegations. #utpol pic.twitter.com/4RDUkl6r8P
— Natalie Andrews (@nataliewsj) February 7, 2018
“I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life,” Hatch said in a statement. “Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable. I am praying for Rob and those involved.”
That seemed like that, but, of course, in the Trump era it never is.
On Wednesday night, NBC’s Frank Thorp spoke to Hatch again, who said he would prefer for Porter not to resign, but instead to just “work his way through and do what’s right.”
Just spoke to @senorrinhatch again, he reiterated he "would prefer (Rob Porter) not to resign. Just work his way through and do what's right."
"I encouraged him to keep a stiff upper lip and work on his problems," Hatch said.
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 7, 2018
Thorp also asked Hatch whether he would employ Porter if the allegations are true, and Hatch refused to answer.
“He worked for me [and] he did a tremendous job,” Hatch said. “If I could find more people like him I would hire them, I think that’s how good he is. And he’s basically a good person.”
The New York Times’ Katie Rogers asked Willoughby what she thought of Hatch’s reinvigorated defense of Porter.
“Rob is in fact charming and intelligent and diligent and extremely good at his job,” Willoughby said. “And, in capital letters, abusive and manipulative and toxic in his personal relationships.”
Hatch has a dicey history navigating the not-so-difficult politics of abuse.
Despite helping craft the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and leading two successful reauthorization efforts, Hatch decided to vote against the signature bill aiming to protect women from domestic abuse in 2012.
More recently, Hatch defended Trump’s endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual abuse by a number of women, some of whom were teenagers when Moore was in his 30’s.
“I don’t think he had any choice but to do that,” Hatch said in December. “That’s the only Republican we can get down there… [and] many of the things [Moore] allegedly did were decades ago.”