President Trump broke his silence on issues of domestic violence during a meeting with local elected officials, entrepreneurs, and investors at the White House on Wednesday. The remarks were in response to an ongoing controversy over recently departed Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who has been accused by two ex-wives of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
“I am totally opposed to domestic violence, and everybody here knows that,” he told reporters. “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. It almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know it.”
The tepid statement avoided commenting specifically on the women allegedly abused by Rob Porter.
The comments came more than one week after controversy erupted.
The Daily Mail first published the allegations against Porter on February 6, prompting Porter to resign his post, but not before White House chief of staff John Kelly defended him, calling him “a man of true integrity and honor” and counseling him to stay on in his role. Kelly later backtracked, saying he was not aware of the full extent of the allegations until The Intercept published photos of Porter’s first wife with a black eye on February 7. Reports have since revealed that Kelly may have known about the allegations as early as last summer, when the FBI completed their background investigation. The FBI closed their investigation in January. Porter had been operating on an interim security clearance since January 2017.
The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the allegations against Porter. Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent letters to both Kelly and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday, pushing them for answers about Porter’s background check, as well as who knew what, and when.
Trump had been tight-lipped on the subject until Wednesday. The president’s personal and official Twitter accounts, typically a hotbed of activity, were also devoid of any mention about domestic abuse or Porter’s accusers.
On the rare occasion that Trump has spoken about the claims, he has chosen to focus his sympathy on Porter himself: on February 9, Trump batted away questions about the allegations, telling reporters, “[Porter]…as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that.” One day later, Trump tweeted that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” and that there was “no recovery for someone falsely accused.”
“Life and career are gone,” he wrote. “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
While the tweet was seen as an ardent defense of Porter, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, claimed that the president may have been referring to real estate mogul and former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn, who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual misconduct. Wynn has denied the claims.
Trump’s response to the unfolding Porter scandal strongly mirrors that of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville, Virginia tragedy, where clashes at a white supremacist rally left one counter-protester dead, as well as his refusal to disavow high-profile supporter and former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) Grand Wizard David Duke.
Duke, an admitted Holocaust denier, has praised Trump repeatedly, both on the campaign trail and since Trump took office. Despite that support, Trump initially declined to renounce for months, saying in an interview on CNN in February 2016 that he “[didn’t] know anything about him” and had “[n]ever met him.” Trump continued to ignore the issue until May that year, when he finally disavowed Duke in a vague statement, saying that “Antisemitism has no place our society, which needs to be united, not divided.”
In August 2017, following the deadly Charlottesville rally, Trump issued a similarly ambiguous response, refusing to explicitly condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who had organized the event.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump stated at the time.
Following backlash from those who thought the president’s response did not go far enough, the White House issued a separate follow-up statement on his behalf, saying, “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups.”
Trump himself later contradicted that statement, arguing in a press conference that there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the rally, and blaming anti-fascist protesters for inciting violence against the white supremacists.