White House tries to defend John Kelly’s conduct in domestic abuse scandal, only makes things worse

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on February 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah made his first appearance at the podium and attempted to defend the conduct of Chief of Staff John Kelly in recent months. It did not go well.

Shah attempted to defend Kelly in the face of reports that he knew about domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter, who served until Wednesday as White House Staff Secretary. Kelly allowed him to stay in the job even though Porter, who was regularly dealing with classified materials, could not get a permanent security clearance. Even after the allegations were made public, Kelly offered an unqualified endorsement of Porter and reportedly tried to convince him not to resign.

Shah said that Kelly become “fully aware of the allegations yesterday.” Asked if Kelly was “partially aware” or, as was reported by multiple outlets, if he knew about the allegations in November, Shah said that he was “not going to get into specifics.”

Shah was also pressed on Kelly’s claim in a statement released Wednesday night that the allegations were “shocking.” Kelly initially responded to the accusations that he physically and mentally abused two ex-wives with a full endorsement of Porter’s character.

“So, you’re saying the initial reports were two former wives accused him of violence, both physical and verbal abuse, was not sufficient for him to say he was not a man of honor?” Shah was asked. 

Shah said that Kelly was referring to the “full nature of the allegations,” including “images.”

Shah was pressed a third time about whether Kelly knew about the claims Porter’s ex-wives made to the FBI about physical abuse.

Are you saying the chief of staff of this White House had no idea Rob Porter’s two ex-wives had domestic violation allegations against him when they made those claims to the FBI, that John Kelly did not know that? How is that possible that the chief of staff did not know that?” a reporter asked.

Shah said that the “the chief of staff does not get detailed updates about what may or may not have been alleged,” leaving unanswered the question of whether he got a general update about the allegations.

Shah also repeatedly said that Porter was “terminated” on Wednesday, when the White House had said it was his decision to resign. Shah defended the decision to allow Porter to stay in his job for more than a year with a temporary security clearance because his background check “had not been completed.”

Under siege, Shah finally acknowledged that “we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation.”

The National Organization for Women agrees, and is calling for Kelly to be fired.