WASHINGTON— White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sent a memo to the White House’s staff Thursday evening stating that senior West Wing staff “take all matters of domestic violence very seriously.”
“We understand the shock, pain and confusion these allegations have caused in our workplace,” Kelly wrote, noting that resources are available at the White House for those who need counseling.
The memo, which was quickly obtained and published by various media outlets, came shortly after Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned from his position amid a series of Daily Mail reports featuring claims of domestic abuse from two of his ex-wives.
The reports and the White House’s subsequent reaction to them have raised concern, particularly over the role that Kelly may have played.
In the initial report, both of Porter’s former wives claimed that Porter had a violent anger, detailing abuse ranging from emotional to physical.
Kelly was quoted in the story offering praise to Porter, who has served in the White House since Trump assumed office.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him,” Kelly said.
The following day, a photo of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye was published by the Mail.
Holderness said that the injury came after Porter punched her during an argument.
Porter has denied the allegations as “simply false.”
Hours after the photo was released, Kelly issued a follow-up statement saying the was “shocked by the new allegations,” but that he stands by his initial comment.
The shift has raised questions over what Kelly knew and when.
When asked about the new statement on Thursday, White House spokesperson Raj Shah said that Kelly only became “fully aware” of the allegations the day after the initial story ran.
When pressed on whether he was partially aware when Porter was initially tapped in November, Shah demurred.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics regarding who may have known what pieces of information because they were all part of an ongoing background check investigation,” Shah said.
The Washington Post, however, reported that Kelly and other officials knew about the allegations for months.
On Wednesday, after the photo of the black eye was published, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders echoed Kelly’s initial remarks, saying Kelly has had confidence in Porter’s abilities.
Shah said Thursday that the President continues to hold confidence in his Chief of Staff, but a New York Times report on Thursday claimed that Trump has expressed anger behind the scenes, allegedly going so far as to complain to his former Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.
Outside the White House, Kelly has come under fire from both lawmakers and activists.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) has called on Kelly to resign immediately.
“General Kelly should know better. As a military commander, he took pride in protecting his troops,” NOW President Toni Van Pelt said in a statement. “As chief of staff, it is his duty to protect the people who serve in the White House.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, offered support to Kelly, telling POLITICO that he didn’t think the controversy would impact his role at the White House.
He added, however, that Republicans “can have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”