President Trump on Friday afternoon lavished praise on one of his former top aides, Rob Porter, who resigned earlier this week amid accusations that he physically, verbally and emotionally abused his two ex-wives.
“We wish him well; he worked very hard,” Trump said to a small group of reporters at the White House, providing his first public comments on the topic. “We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it's a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now. He also, 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, but we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
In interviews with The Washington Post and other media outlets, Porter’s ex-wives have accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages. Both said that they informed the FBI in January 2017 of their allegations while they were being interviewed by agents as part of Porter’s security clearance review.
Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, has accused him of throwing her down and punching her in the face during a trip to Florence in 2005 and provided photos showing her with a black eye. Porter’s second wife, Jennie Willoughby, received a temporary emergency protective order in Arlington, Va., in June 2010 after saying Porter refused to leave her residence, in violation of their separation agreement. She said he broke her window, causing his knuckles to bleed. Porter has denied these accusations and disputed Holderness's account of how she received a black eye.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in a statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
Trump's comments on Friday echo the strong support Porter received from the White House this week. When the allegations were first reported by the DailyMail.com on Tuesday, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly came to Porter's defense and called the allegations “slanderous and simply false.”
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him,” Kelly said in a statement at the time. “He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Kelly urged Porter to stay in his job, even after photos became public on Wednesday showing his first wife's blackened eye. On Wednesday night, after Porter had resigned, Kelly issued a statement condemning Porter’s alleged abuses and stated that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
This is not the first time that the president has continued to embrace men close to him who have been accused of misconduct or abuse. In July 2016, Trump called his longtime friend Roger Ailes — who had just been ousted from Fox News amid accusations that he sexually harassed at least two-dozen women — “a very, very good person” and cast suspicion on the accusers. In April last year, Trump said that Bill O'Reilly — who, it had recently been revealed, paid millions of dollars in settlements to five women who had accused him of sexual or verbal abuse — “a good person” who should not have settled, because “I don't think Bill did anything wrong.” Late last year, Trump continued to support Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore — who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers — and noted that Moore “totally denies it.”
And Trump himself has been accused of abuse by 13 women who have publicly claimed that Trump touched or kissed them without their permission. Trump has denied all of these accusations and cast all of his accusers as liars. In a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview caught on a hot microphone, Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”