White House chief of staff John Kelly said Friday that he found out Tuesday night that the domestic abuse accusations against top aide Rob Porter were true. He then said Porter was “gone” 40 minutes after that.
His latest account differs from reports that emerged this week after the U.K.’s Daily Mail tabloid said Porter physically and mentally abused his two former wives. In a story about the alleged abuse that was published online Tuesday night, Kelly praised Porter, who denies the accusations.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said Tuesday. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional,” he said at the time. “I am proud to serve alongside him.”
On Friday, when asked to clarify the timeline of what happened, Kelly said that he found out Tuesday night “that the accusations were true.”
Porter officially resigned Wednesday, after photos of an ex-wife’s bruised face were published.
“Forty minutes later he was gone,” Kelly added Friday. Pressed for further clarification about whether he ordered Porter’s termination, at first Kelly said “yes.” But then he quickly added: “Actually, he made the decision 40 minutes later.” In a statement Wednesday night, however, Kelly had said he accepted Porter’s resignation earlier Wednesday.
Porter, who was a key Kelly ally in controlling the flow of information to President Donald Trump, has denied the abuse accusations. At first, he was slated to stay during a transition period, but Porter left almost immediately.
Kelly’s claim that the allegations against Porter are “true” directly contrast with those of his boss, the president, who pointed out Friday that Porter claims he is innocent. “I think you also have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday he’s innocent,” Trump said.
Kelly said Friday he “didn’t even know” on Tuesday night about pictures that showed bruises on the face of one of Porter’s ex-wives.
The chief of staff on Friday at first pushed back against reports that he had known for months about the accusations against Porter, saying he had “no” indication. But then he indicated that he had known there were some pressing questions about Porter’s background, which were raised as he was undergoing a background investigation to get security clearance.
“In November, I got an update about some of the investigations, and the update was that there were some things that needed to be looked into and literally that was it,” Kelly said, referring to Porter’s background investigation process. “And Tuesday night I found out. And that’s what I’ve been saying.”
Kelly has come under fire for his handling of the Porter scandal. The Washington Post reported Friday that some White House aides believed that Kelly suggested they tell an untrue version of the events.
Later Friday, an ABC News report, citing sources close to Trump, said Kelly had expressed his willingness to resign over the Porter situation, and that businessman and longtime Trump confidante Tom Barrack was approached about possibly becoming chief of staff. Barrack said he wouldn’t take the job, ABC News added, citing a source.
The White House pushed back on the report almost immediately. “Gen. Kelly has not offered his resignation to the president,” spokesman Hogan Gidley said. Asked whether Kelly expressed a willingness to resign, Gidley replied: “Not to my knowledge, no.”
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah on Thursday acknowledged that the White House made some mistakes in handling the Porter incident. “I think it’s fair to say we all could have done better over the few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” Shah told reporters.
— NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell contributed to this report.