The Rob Porter scandal has exposed the real John Kelly

Two years ago, Kelly praised a Marine colonel accused of sexually harassing two subordinates as a "superb Marine officer."

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) waves to journalists as he and Staff Secretary Rob Porter leave the White House with U.S. President Donald Trump November 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) waves to journalists as he and Staff Secretary Rob Porter leave the White House with U.S. President Donald Trump November 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Two years ago, before President Trump was President Trump, before White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned in the wake of domestic abuse accusations, current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly appeared as a character witness in a court-martial of a Marine colonel who was accused of sexually harassing two woman subordinates.

At the court-martial, Kelly praised the colonel as a “superb Marine officer,” as The New York Times reported Thursday. It wouldn’t be the last time Kelly downplayed assault accusations.

Earlier this week, The Daily Mail reported on the record accusations by Porter’s two ex-wives, alleging Porter had physically and verbally abused them.


Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Mail that Porter had allegedly pulled her naked out of the shower after a fight about a year into their marriage. Willoughby also said Porter was verbally abusive. The Mail also published a 2010 police complaint detailing an incident in which Porter allegedly punched a glass door at their home. Willoughby filed a temporary protective order after the alleged incident.

On Wednesday, the Mail reported accusations by Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness. Holderness says Porter kicked her, chocked her, and punched her in the face on their honeymoon. Holderness provided photos of her injuries to media.

Both women 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.”

Kelly defended Porter after the first Mail report, echoing comments he made in 2016 at the court-martial.

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said in a statement. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”


Porter resigned Wednesday, but he denies the allegations. When the news of Porter’s resignation broke, Axios reported that White House senior staff, including Kelly, encouraged Porter to “stay and fight” rather than resign.

But as CNN reported Thursday, it was widely known by early fall of last year among top aides — Kelly included — that Porter was facing trouble obtaining security clearance and that he had allegedly abused his ex-wives. There was no action to remove Porter from the White House staff, however.

The Washington Post reported late Thursday night that the White House counsel was told four times about the seriousness of the abuse allegations against Porter, but the counsel chose to ignore them because Porter was a “steadying, professional voice” in the White House.

On Friday morning, Willoughby told CNN that Porter himself asked her to downplay his alleged abuse.

“We were in contact, even a couple days ago, as he was asking me to release a statement about my blog post,” she said, referencing a post where she wrote about his alleged abuse and why she stayed with Porter. “I went back and forth with him for an hour or so about what language I would be comfortable with, and ultimately, the language he asked I wasn’t comfortable with. And he came out with that statement less than an hour later.”


Willoughby said Porter asked her to say she had taken some “liberties with that therapeutic post,” but, she said, “when I thought about it, I didn’t. The things that I said were factual statements.”

On Thursday, the Post also reported that Porter has been explaining the pictures of Holderness’ black eye, which she has distributed to the media, saying that “they were arguing over a vase, and she was somehow hit with the vase.”

As details continue to come out about how much White House officials knew about the accusations Porter’s ex-wives have made, there has been increasing pressure on Kelly to resign.

Toni Van Pelt, head of the feminist group National Organization for Women, put it bluntly.

“White House chief of staff John Kelly must resign,” Van Pelt said in a statement released earlier this week. “His pathetic defense of staff secretary Rob Porter reveals his true nature — an enabler of sexual abusers, a betrayer of trust and an avoider of responsibility.”

Kelly is, of course, working for another alleged sexual abuser. More than 15 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Trump denies all the accusations and the White House’s official position is that all the women who have accused Trump of misconduct are lying.

At any rate, the president is reportedly unhappy with the way the White House has handled the Porter story. As CNN reported Thursday night, Turmp was reportedly upset with the fact that Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told the White House corps in Thursday’s briefing that the White House could have better handled the Porter “situation” — despite the fact Trump himself reportedly thought the situation should have been handled better.