John Kelly was supposedly brought on as White House chief of staff to bring a semblance of order to the Donald Trump White House. But it’s possible that one of Trump’s habits has rubbed off on Kelly. Senior White House officials claim that Kelly fed them a narrative about the departure of the White House staff secretary that doesn’t square with earlier narratives.
On Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported that White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, claimed that she had been the target of emotional and verbal abuse at Porter’s hands, both while they were dating and while they were married. Willoughby claimed that Porter screamed and cursed at her during their honeymoon in Myrtle Beach in late 2009. By early 2010, they were in therapy. By the spring, they were separated. She got a protective order against him after he punched through the door of the apartment they once shared in Alexandria, Virginia.
Porter and Willoughby reconciled, but Willoughby said that years of being called “worthless” and a “liar” wore her down, to the point that she had a miscarriage in 2013. They divorced soon afterward. Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders vigorously defended Porter in interviews with the Daily Mail.
But on Wednesday, Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, told The Intercept and CNN that Porter was physically abusive with her on a number of occasions during their brief marriage in the early 2000s. It started while they were honeymooning in the Canary Islands in 2003, when he kicked her. On several other occasions, he threw her down on the bed or on the couch.
It finally boiled over in 2005 while they were vacationing in Italy. Holderness claims that Porter threw her on the bed and punched her. She provided pictures to several media outlets.
— WUSA9 (@wusa9) February 9, 2018
Within hours of Holderness’ story breaking, Porter resigned, loudly denouncing the “outrageous allegations.”
On Thursday, CNN and The Washington Post reported that White House officials had known about the allegations against Porter since last fall. Apparently Holderness and Willoughby’s complaints were among factors keeping Porter from getting a permanent security clearance, even as Porter’s role grew when Kelly became chief of staff. Under the watch of Trump’s original chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Porter helped guide the flow of paper to the Oval Office, including the raft of executive orders. When Kelly took over, he and Porter decided what information got to Trump’s desk.
Senior White House officials claimed that on Friday, Kelly told them that within 40 minutes of determining that Holderness and Willoughby’s accounts were credible, he “took immediate and direct action” to force Porter out. But that doesn’t square with Kelly’s earlier praise of Porter on Tuesday as “a man of true integrity and honor.” It also doesn’t square with Kelly’s statement on Wednesday, in which he continued to stand by his “previous comments” about Porter.
It also doesn’t square with Trump and Kelly’s personal votes of confidence in Porter, expressed first through through Sanders at that day’s press briefing. Watch here.
Even before this, Kelly’s credibility was taking a severe hit both inside and outside the White House due to his handling of the matter. Reportedly, Kelly has even been willing to offer his resignation over the matter.
This is eerily reminiscent of the shifting narrative about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower during the campaign. First it was about adoption, then it was about getting dirt about Hillary Clinton. For a long while, we didn’t know what the truth was.
This is no different. We’re looking at the very situation that Kelly was supposedly brought in to avoid–and Kelly is in the middle of it.
(featured image courtesy Department of Homeland Security, part of public domain)