White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters Friday that he never considered resigning over the White House’s handling of former aide Rob Porter’s resignation after allegations of abuse surfaced early last month.
“I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over,” he said Friday, according to a White House pool report. “We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning; it was confusing.”
That’s an understatement.
In the same pool spray with reporters Friday, Kelly attempted to outline how the reports of abuse allegations against Porter surfaced, when he first learned of the accusations and when Porter resigned, but his account differs from what’s been reported by TPM and many other news outlets.
Here’s how Kelly laid out the timeline of events:
Kelly said he first learned of one allegation against Porter on Feb. 6 when a reporter contacted the White House for comment about an allegation from one of Porter’s ex-wives related to “some level of emotional abuse.”
“That was, I want to say, 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” Kelly said. “I talked to Rob, I said, ‘What’s the deal?’ He denied it. He said it’s absolutely untrue.”
Kelly said the first accusation “had to do with a messy divorce” and that there were no photos or mention of physical abuse in the press inquiry that was sent to the White House. Kelly said after he asked Porter about it, Porter agreed to resign; “it was a choice he made,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that it was his “sense” that his statement of support for Porter was put out at that point.
Kelly said he then headed to Capitol Hill for a meeting on DACA and when he returned, the White House received a second press inquiry “that included, I guess, the accusation of physical abuse.” Kelly said that he still did not have knowledge of the “photos” that one of Porter’s wives made public of a black eye she said she received when Porter allegedly punched her in the face.
Kelly said he then accepted Porter’s resignation, at around 7 p.m. and “called the office here and told one of the deputy chiefs of staff he had just resigned, have him in come in the next morning and get read out on some of the things.”
Kelly claimed he did not correct his statement at that time because he thought it was “accurate of my relationship” with Porter.
“The man we all knew, it was an absolute shock” Kelly said. “His religion, his focus on work, etc. It was just a shock to us all. The initial accusation was, messy divorce, ‘he yelled at me a lot.’ He resigned, I put out a statement of support for him, and an hour later find out now there’s a second report still not in the press, still no pictures. Just an inquiry… He had already resigned.”
Kelly said it was accurate that the White House had received “some information” on Porter in March 2017, but that he and White House attorney Don McGahn had not been made aware of it because it was “in the security office’s perspective, only partial information still coming in.” Kelly said the security office received a second “tranche” of information on Porter in July, but that he was still not made aware of it.
Kelly’s explanation of that timeline:
“We received another kind of tranche of things that came over in July. Now they look through it all. They now have what they consider to be a final product from the background investigation. They look through it. They sent it back to the FBI, and the FBI sent back the answer to those questions in late November. I’ve since learned all of this after Chris Wray’s testimony. By December, January, they still had not finished evaluating, the security office, and then (Feb. 6) happened and he resigned. They still not had evaluated his package to make a recommendation one way or the other.”
While Kelly admitted the White House’s response was “confusing,” his account also doesn’t add up with TPM’s timeline of how the resignation came about.
According to FBI Director Wray, the FBI sent the White House a “completed background investigation” on Porter in July 2017, not another “tranche of things” as Kelly claimed. It also contradicts the White House’s claims that the background check on Porter had not yet been completed at the time of his resignation.
Kelly also claimed that he and McGahn did not know about the accusations of abuse because the information had only been shared with the security office, but The Washington Post reported that McGahn was informed in September 2017 that Porter’s security clearance was delayed because of allegations of domestic violence. Both the Post and CNN also reported that Kelly was made aware of the allegations sometime in the fall of 2017. McGahn was informed of new allegations of abuse from one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends in November 2017, according to the Post.
Politico reported in early 2018 that Kelly was told that Porter had been denied a full security clearance because of a 2010 protective order against him.
Kelly’s account of the press inquiries that came into his office also doesn’t line up with what was initially published in the Daily Mail, which was an account by Porter’s second wife Jennifer Willoughby, who described several incidents of physical abuse. Around the same time, the White House issued its statements of support for Porter. Several outlets reported that Kelly believed Porter’s denials at that point and even asked him to stay at the White House.
Kelly was correct in that the photos of Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness’ black eye did not surface until late evening on Feb. 6, after Porter had already privately resigned and after Kelly had released a statement of support for the former aide. Porter’s resignation then was made public on Feb. 7.
Read TPM’s full timeline of the handling of the Porter resignation here.