- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
- The White House walked back its defense of Rob Porter on Thursday in light of new allegations of abuse against the former White House staff secretary.
- Reporters grilled White House spokesman Raj Shah about the Trump administration’s handling of the allegations, which they reportedly knew about for weeks.
- Porter resigned Wednesday amid the controversy.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah fielded a barrage of questions during a press briefing Thursday about the president’s outgoing staff secretary Rob Porter.
After Porter’s two ex-wives publicly accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages, he resigned on Wednesday.
The grilling from reporters comes amid criticism over how the White House has handled the allegations, which Porter has called “outrageous” and “simply false.”
“I think it’s fair to say we all could have done better dealing with this over the last few days,” Shah conceded Thursday.
The White House came under fire for initially defending Porter against the allegations. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Porter on Wednesday and said President Donald Trump and chief of staff John Kelly had “full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”
Axios reported that Kelly had encouraged Porter to “stay and fight.” But in a later statement after the Daily Mail published photos of black eyes that Colbie Holderness said Porter gave her while they were married, Kelly said he was “shocked” by the allegations.
“There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said in the second statement.
On Thursday, Shah called the allegations “serious and disturbing.” He also said Trump was “surprised” by the allegations because “he, like many of us, did not see that in Robert Porter.”
Shah explained Kelly’s change in opinion about the seriousness of the allegations by saying that Kelly wasn’t “fully aware” of the allegations until Wednesday.
But White House sources told CNN that rumblings of Porter’s personal challenges had been circulating in the West Wing in recent weeks, and that Kelly and some top aides had known of the abuse allegations since “early fall.” Trump learned of the claims this week, CNN reported.
The accusations reportedly came up during FBI interviews with Porter’s ex-wives during his background check. According to CNN, he was having trouble obtaining a permanent security clearance because of them.
Porter’s job as White House staff secretary meant he was in charge of vetting and filtering what reached Trump’s desk, including classified information.