Trump praises former staffer accused of domestic abuse: ‘He says he’s innocent’

President Donald Trump. CREDIT: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump commented publicly for the first time Friday on a White House staffer who resigned this week after allegations of domestic abuse by two former wives became public. The president had only positive things to say about Rob Porter, his former staff secretary, with any concern reserved for Porter’s well being.

“We hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump told reporters. “But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”

Trump’s remarks exacerbate the White House’s embarrassing handling of the serious allegations against Porter. While senior White House officials have known about the domestic abuse allegations for several months, the public only became aware this week, when the Daily Mail first reported on them.

Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Mail that Porter was verbally abusive and pulled her naked out of the shower after a fight. After Porter allegedly punched a glass door in their home, Willoughby obtained a temporary protective order against him. Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, then told the Mail that Porter kicked her, choked her, and punched her in the face on their honeymoon. Holderness provided photos of her injuries to the media.

Willoughby and Holderness told CNN this week that a girlfriend of Porter’s also reached out to them for advice about how to deal with Porter’s “repeated abuse.” Porter has denied the allegations.

As information continues to come out regarding who knew what, and when, it’s clear several top Trump administration officials were aware of Porter’s history and protected him. Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the allegations and the fact that those allegations were delaying Porter’s security clearance last fall, the Washington Post reported Thursday night, “but Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.” White House Counsel Donald McGahn learned one year ago that Porter’s ex-wives “were prepared to make damaging accusations about him” — he was told four times, in fact — but kept Porter in a highly influential role regardless, the Post reported.

Kelly defended Porter this week, reportedly telling him to “stay and fight,” rather than resign.

In an interview airing Friday night, NBC’s Lester Holt asked Vice President Mike Pence about Kelly’s failure to act on the allegations against Porter. “There is no tolerance in this White House, and no place in America, for domestic abuse,” Pence said, adding that he’d look into the matter when he returns from Asia.

The way the White House seems to have worked to protect and defend an alleged abuser — and the president’s utter lack of concern for the alleged victims — comes as little surprise. At least 21 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, according to a HuffPost list. Trump has repeatedly denied the accusations and he and his administration have worked to smear the alleged victims; Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed last fall that the official White House position is that all of the women are liars.