Instead, Kelly engaged in a series of wildly irresponsible actions to cover up a domestic abuse scandal that ultimately may have jeopardized national security. As his actions were exposed, Kelly expressed no contrition and gave a variety of conflicting and self-serving statements.
In most White Houses, this fact pattern would cost Kelly his job. “John Kelly Must Resign,” the National Organization for Women said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. Kelly’s standing in the Trump White House, however, is far more uncertain.
Kelly reportedly knew for months about allegations that Rob Porter beat women
Before he resigned on Wednesday, Rob Porter was the White House Staff Secretary, an extremely important but low-profile position that controls the information flow to the president. Porter also served as the former chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), which made him one of the few White House aides with high-level government experience. By all accounts, Porter was valued by Kelly, who became Trump’s chief of staff last July. Kelly viewed Porter as a key ally in his efforts to impose discipline on the White House.
But Porter, according to his ex-wives, had a dark past. Colbie Holderness, who married Porter in 2003, told CNN that “the physical abuse began almost immediately after their wedding.” Holderness said “Porter’s repeated physically abusive behavior also included throwing her on the bed and forcefully pushing one of his limbs into her body in anger and choking her.” In 2005, he allegedly punched her in the face.
Jennifer Willoughby married Porter in 2009. They quickly separated and, according to Willoughby, “Porter came looking for her at their previously shared home and it appeared that he had punched a glass pane on the front door.” She sought and received a temporary protective order in 2010. She alleges that Porter also physically assaulted her when she was in the shower that year. CNN also reported there was a third woman who dated Porter and reached out to his ex-wives for advice on how to exit the abusive relationship.
According to multiple reports, Kelly knew for months before Porter resigned that multiple women alleged he beat them up.
Politico, citing a senior administrative official, reported that “Kelly and other top White House officials were aware of the allegations, including the 2010 protective order, weeks and in some cases months before they were made public.” Similarly, CNN reported that by “early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them.”
When the allegations of abuse became public, Kelly unequivocally defended Porter
The allegations against Porter were first made public by the Daily Mail. In a statement to the paper on February 6, Kelly expressed his unequivocal support.
Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.
Kelly did not say he would investigate the allegations or offer any commentary on the issue of domestic abuse. Privately, Kelly reportedly encouraged Porter not to resign and to “stay and fight.”
As the tide shifted against Porter, Kelly feigned ignorance
As more details of Porter’s abuse emerged, including a photo of Holderness with a black eye, Kelly released a new statement in which he pretended to have just learned about the abuse allegations.
I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition
We know from multiple reports that the idea that Kelly would be “shocked” by these allegations is not credible. Further, he had previously commented on the allegations to the Daily Mail and did not express any shock, only support for Porter.
Kelly allowed Porter to handle highly classified information, despite his inability to obtain a security clearance and his susceptibility to blackmail
The job of White House Staff Secretary is extremely important because its responsibilities include controlling the information that flows to the president, which naturally includes highly classified material. As such, it requires a security clearance.
Porter, however, was unable to receive a security clearance because his former spouses told the FBI about his alleged domestic abuse. Holderness told the FBI she thought Porter was susceptible to blackmail because people knew about his history of domestic abuse. Willoughby said Porter called her and angrily demanded that she remove a blog post in which she documented Porter’s abuse, citing delays to his security clearance. He called her again in January when reporters started investigating his past. Both times, she refused.
Despite his inability to obtain a security clearance, Kelly allowed Porter to keep his job. Kelly’s actions, therefore, didn’t just fail morally — they also endangered national security.
“Kelly’s conduct is a violation of best practice in both White House personnel and intelligence handling,” Norm Eisen, White House Counsel in the Obama administration, told ThinkProgress. “He exposed the White House and so the nation to compromise by sharing America’s and our allies’ most closely held secrets with someone he happened to like but who was subject to blackmail. Now that person is gone but takes all the secrets with him in his head, so the risk continues.”
Eisen described Kelly’s actions as “truly shocking.”