Kelly: 'We didn't cover ourselves in glory' over handling of Porter

Kelly: 'We didn't cover ourselves in glory' over handling of Porter
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White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE on Friday expressed remorse for how the White House handled the response to domestic abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter.

Kelly also defended himself, saying he only knew about claims of emotional abuse and was unaware of accusations that Porter struck one of his ex-wives when he publicly praised Porter.  

“We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in how we handled that,” Kelly told reporters at the White House.

The chief of staff said he engineered Porter’s exit once he learned about the physical abuse allegations, which were backed up by a photo showing ex-wife Colbie Holderness with a black eye she claims Porter gave her.

Kelly said he first learned of “serious” accusations against Porter through the media.

He said Porter had denied the allegations, which Porter allegedly did by telling a group of journalists that his ex-wife had injured her eye in a fall. Kelly said Porter was a well-respected member of Trump’s team and the allegations left the staff shaken.

“The man we all knew, it was an absolute shock,” Kelly said.

The Porter saga sent the White House into a tailspin from which it is still struggling to recover.

It was one of the lowest points for Kelly, who was hired as chief of staff to impose order on a chaotic West Wing. But Kelly pushed back on reports that he offered to resign over his handling of Porter.

“I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over,” he said.

After a Daily Mail report first broke that Porter had grabbed one of his ex-wives and swore at her, Kelly praised him as “a man of true integrity and honor” and “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional.”

Those comments triggered widespread criticism that the White House does not take seriously allegations brought by women. Kelly was forced to issue a subsequent statement condemning domestic violence. 

Kelly on Friday said of the initial response that, “at that point in time, I thought that statement was accurate.”

The chief of staff confirmed FBI Director Christopher Wray's testimony that the bureau provided information about Porter several months before the allegations became public.

But he said the White House office tasked with handling clearance requests "still had not evaluated his package to make a recommendation one way or the other" about Porter.

Kelly also came under fire it was revealed that Porter, who was in charge of the paper flow to President TrumpDonald John TrumpScarborough mocks 'Deflection Don' over transgender troop ban Pelosi condemns Trump's 'cowardly, disgusting' ban on transgender troops Trump moves to ban most transgender people from serving in military MORE’s desk, was allowed to see to highly classified information even though he was unable to pass a background check for a security clearance.

That forced Kelly to crack down on the use of interim security clearances, which resulted in presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJim Carrey paints Kushner as 'self-unmade man' The Daily Show jokes Trump’s new legal counsel is a TV Mueller investigates, Peters quits Fox, White House leaks abound MORE losing his top-secret security clearance.

Kushner had been working under an interim clearance that allowed him to see the some of the nation’s most closely held secrets, and losing that access has triggered a round of media leaks that have exposed tensions between Kelly and Kushner.

Kelly justified the decision to restrict access to classified information, saying he was he was “having my eyes opened” last fall about the number of staffers who were still working under interim security clearances.

“[It was] more people than I was comfortable with,” Kelly said.

The Porter incident has had major ripple effects for the White House staff.

White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House race to replace Hope Hicks has two lead contenders Hicks almost left WH months before she announced her resignation: report Kelly tells White House staff no more personnel changes coming MORE, who was dating Porter at the time, played a role in crafting the public response to the allegations.

Hicks announced Wednesday she was resigning from her post, depriving Trump of one of his longest-serving and most trusted aides.

Updated at 1:26 p.m.