John Kelly, Democratic Lightning Rod — Again

Abuse allegations surrounding Rob Porter latest controversy

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter but still kept Porter in a senior aide role. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter but still kept Porter in a senior aide role. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 8, 2018 at 11:07am

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly became the latest West Wing lightning rod for Democrats on Wednesday and Thursday after senior White House aide Rob Porter resigned over physical abuse and assault allegations.

Kelly was reportedly aware of the allegations against Porter as the 40-year-staff secretary struggled to gain his security clearance over the allegations.

But instead of axing Porter from the White House staff, Kelly oversaw his elevation to a higher post.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington called Kelly’s role in keeping Porter on as a White House staffer even after learning of the allegations “very, very disturbing.”

“Clearly, WH Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about Rob Porter’s history of abuse directly from FBI and chose to ignore it,” Jayapal tweeted Thursday morning. “#MeToo is as much about those who protect the abusers with their silence as the abusers themselves.”

Sen. Bob Casey questioned why Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, “[continued] to praise Rob Porter until the pictures detailing his conduct became public.”

The White House “must provide an explanation,” the Pennsylvania Democrat tweeted Wednesday.

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As Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announced a spending deal on Wednesday that includes several White House priorities, senior aides in the West Wing spent much of the day holed up in meetings about allegations Porter abused his two ex-wives.

The allegations came via on-the-record interviews the women gave to The Daily Mail and to The Intercept, which published photographs of Colbie Holderness, now 37, with a black eye she said Porter gave her during a vacation in the mid-2000s.

Kelly’s handling of the situation was just the latest controversy the chief of staff has found himself in the center of, California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell indicated on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday.

“Americans were hoping he would be there with the fire hose, but too often now we’ve seen he’s there with the gasoline,” Swalwell said.

Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia was likewise aghast at what he called Kelly’s “catastrophic judgment error” in keeping Porter on.

Kelly “knew for months about highly credible allegations against Porter, including a restraining order,” Beyer tweeted Thursday.

“John Kelly’s White House tolerates domestic violence,” Beyer added.

President Donald Trump stood by Porter, even though he accepted the 40-year-old Rhodes Scholar’s resignation.

“Rob has been an effective in his role … and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance,” Press Secretary Sanders Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday at the White House press briefing.

She then read aloud from a statement attributed to the outgoing staff secretary in which he called his ex-wives’ charges “outrageous” and claimed to have taken the photos The Daily Mail published.

“The reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said in the statement.

Porter plans to leave the White House after staying on to ensure a “smooth transition,” she said.