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White House officials say Trump will keep Kelly despite defense of domestic abuser

"[Trump] says that General Kelly, he's doing a great job and he has full faith in him."

US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about immigration enforcement legislation during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 29, 2017.
US President Donald Trump's order to block arrivals from six mainly Muslim countries takes partial effect Thursday after he won a Supreme Court victory over rights groups. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about immigration enforcement legislation during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 29, 2017. US President Donald Trump's order to block arrivals from six mainly Muslim countries takes partial effect Thursday after he won a Supreme Court victory over rights groups. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and budget chief Mick Mulvaney separately said Sunday that President Trump would retain chief of staff John Kelly amidst public outcry over his handling of abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter.

During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Jake Tapper asked Conway whether Kelly’s job was in jeopardy after it was reported that the chief of staff said he would resign on the president’s request.

“No. I spoke to the president last night and told him I’d be with you today and he said ‘please tell Jake that I have full faith in chief of staff John Kelly and that I’m not actively searching for replacements.’ He said, ‘I saw that all over the news today and I have faith in him,’ and he does.” 

“He says that General Kelly — he’s doing a great job and that he has full faith in him and I think he looks at the full measure of all of us,” Conway added.

Budget chief Mulvaney similarly said on Fox News Sunday that Kelly’s rumored departure is “much ado about nothing.”

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In response to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asking whether the president or other administration officials have talked about replacing Kelly, Mulvaney responded “absolutely not.”

“I don’t think it’s an issue,” Mulvaney continued. “Working in the West Wing and reading about it in the newspaper, watching it on television, could not be more different. The place is very stable, very quiet. All the media hype about all the disarray is just that.”

When Kelly was hired as chief of staff, he received praise for bringing a “moderating influence” to a chaotic White House. Yet, he and other top White House officials reportedly knew for weeks and in some cases months about Porter’s domestic abuse scandal, an action that may have jeopardized national security.

Porter resigned as White House Staff Secretary last week following reports of a pattern of domestic abuse stemming as far back as 2003 involving two ex-wives and a third woman who dated him. His two ex-wives gave their accounts of abuse to the FBI during a routine background check, which meant that by 2017, Trump administration officials — including Kelly — had known “Porter was facing troubles in obtaining his security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them,” CNN previously reported.

When the initial allegations against Porter became public, Kelly praised his character as a “man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him.” Even after physical evidence emerged, including a photo of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye, Kelly said he was “shocked by the new allegations” but that he stood 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.” 

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Outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that it was an “understatement” to say the Trump administration could have better handled the domestic abuse scandal.

“I think when the White House said they could have handled the situation better, that’s a bit of an understatement, yes,” Flake said. “They could have done a lot better particularly with the Rob Porter situation.”

“I do think if you put on a political hat, that is a big problem, certainly how we are viewed as Republicans in the next election,” Flake added. “It’s a big problem not to show any concern or empathy for the potential victims of these incidents.”

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also said Sunday on CNN that the president should keep Kelly in the position.

“As long as Donald Trump is president, our government is best served if John Kelly is in the job of chief of staff,” Johnson said. “That might be a minority view among my Democratic friends but that is my view.”