After ex-wives allege years of abuse, top White House staffer Rob Porter resigns

Rob Porter and Donald Trump.

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Rob Porter and Donald Trump.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

  • Rob Porter resigned as the White House staff secretary on Wednesday.
  • Two of his ex-wives have accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages.

Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who’s an integral part of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, resigned Wednesday after two of his ex-wives accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages.

Colbie Holderness, who was married to Porter for five years, provided photos to the Daily Mail of black eyes she said Porter gave her, while Jennifer Willoughby provided a copy of a 2010 protective order she filed against Porter after he violated a separation agreement and refused to leave their home, she said.

Porter’s profile had increased in recent months as he became the right-hand adviser to John Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

Porter denied the allegations.

“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in a statement. “I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.

“My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”

It’s unclear when he will officially depart the White House.

‘Walking on eggshells’

Willoughby, who was married to Porter from 2009 to 2013, told the Daily Mail earlier this week that she was “walking on eggshells” during the marriage because of Porter’s anger issues. She said Porter pulled her naked from a shower in 2010 and yelled at her.

“We had already been fighting,” Willoughby said. “I had already seen more extreme versions of the overreactions of anger that I had seen” before their marriage.

“I can’t remember what triggered it,” she continued. “He lashed out and was really angry, and both under his breath and explicitly to me called me a ‘f—ing b—-‘ and ‘f—ing ridiculous.’ He accused me of not caring about him or not caring about his needs.”

But Willoughby said she “definitely” wanted to see Porter stay in the White House.

“I want to be very clear when I say this,” she said. “I don’t want to be married to him. I would not recommend anyone to date him or marry him. But I definitely want him in the White House and the position he is in. I think his integrity and ability to do his job is impeccable. And the majority of the issues he suffers from are very personal and intimate.”

Holderness, who married Porter in 2003, described him as “verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive.” She provided the Daily Mail alarming photos of black eyes she said she sustained at the hands of Porter.

“We were arguing, and he punched me in the face,” she said. “He left visible marks when he punched me, and I have pictures of that. I didn’t go the police because I was scared, I was in Italy alone, and I didn’t know what to do.”

The Daily Mail described sources as saying Porter’s past prevented him from obtaining security clearance for his White House role.

“Consistent with the practice of past administrations, issues related to an individual’s suitability are reviewed through a thorough and lengthy background check process,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday. “Background checks involve a complex investigation run by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. As has always been our policy, we do not comment on security clearances.”

The Daily Mail reported last week that Porter was dating Hope Hicks, the White House communications director.

Kelly wanted Porter to ‘stay and fight’

John Kelly.

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John Kelly.
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REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The news website Axios reported on Wednesday that Porter was not pressured to resign. A White House official said senior staffers, including Kelly, wanted Porter “to stay and fight.”

Sanders said in a statement: “Rob Porter has been effective in his role as staff secretary. The president and chief of staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, for whom Porter formerly worked, said in a statement to the Daily Mail on Tuesday that it was “incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man.”

“Shame on any publication that would print this – and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name,” he said.

“I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal advisor. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.”

He dramatically changed his tune on Wednesday after Porter resigned.

“I am heartbroken by today’s allegations,” Hatch said. “In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful. My staff loved him and he was a trusted adviser.

“I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable. I am praying for Rob and those involved.”

Kelly said Porter was “a man of true integrity and honor.”

“He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional,” he said in a statement. “I am proud to serve alongside him.”

During Wednesday’s press briefing, Sanders said she did not know whether Trump had seen the photos of Holderness.

One of the most important men in the White House

As staff secretary and assistant to the president for policy coordination, Porter had been at the helm since the administration’s first day, tasked with vetting and filtering what reached Trump’s desk. Under Kelly, who was appointed chief of staff in July, Porter’s role was reinforced.

Porter, a Rhodes scholar who attended Harvard with Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser, was close with Reince Priebus, Trump’s former chief of staff, from his time at the Republican National Committee. Porter also previously served in the offices of Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Rob Portman, and Hatch.

For months, Porter kept a low profile in a White House filled with outsize personalities, though roughly a half-dozen former Senate colleagues told Business Insider in September that many on Capitol Hill were thrilled that Porter was working within the administration.

Last month, it was reported that he could soon leave the White House.

Citing three sources “with direct knowledge,” Axios said Porter “received overtures from major companies and organizations wanting to poach him from the Trump administration” but had yet to entertain any of the overtures.

A source close to Porter told Business Insider at the time that he would stick around at least through the State of the Union, which took place last week.