White House staff secretary resigns amid abuse allegations

Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, announced Wednesday that he would resign after he was accused of abusing two of his ex-wives.

The decision came one day after the ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, told the Daily Mail they experienced physical and emotional abuse during their marriages to Porter.

The tabloid published a 2010 protective order obtained by his second wife and photos later surfaced online of his first wife's bruised and battered face that she said resulted from Porter punching her.

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“These outrageous allegations are simply false. 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,” Porter said in a statement announcing his departure.

“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.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Porter's exit would not be "immediate" so he could help usher in a replacement. She said Porter "was not pressured" to resign and that he made the decision to leave on his own.

Sanders also faced questions about Porter's security clearance.

CBS News reported Wednesday that the FBI was made aware of a protective order sought by Willoughby and the information was later passed on to the White House.

Contradicting Porter, Holderness told The Intercept that she took the photos of her face after Porter allegedly struck her during a vacation in Florence, Italy. She later reportedly shared the photos with the FBI, which interviewed both wives as part of Porter’s background check.

The allegations against Porter were the main reason why he never obtained a full security clearance, according to CBS, something that could have hampered his ability to do his job.

Sanders declined to comment on the status of Porter's clearance.

"As has always been our policy, we do not comment on security clearances," she said in a statement, reiterating that Trump and White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE have "full confidence in his abilities" to carry out his job.

The incident has renewed questions about how the White House deals with allegations of abuse against top officials.

Kelly and Sanders both issued statements of support for Porter after the initial reports surfaced Tuesday night. The chief of staff called him “a man of true integrity and honor.” 

“Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance,” Sanders said Wednesday, doubling down on her praise even after he announced his departure. 

Trump has faced persistent criticism about his treatment of women ever since a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape was released during the fall of 2016, in which he boasted about groping women against their will. He has denied allegations of actually engaging in such conduct.

Porter's departure is a major blow to the White House staff. 

He was a member of Kelly's inner circle and was responsible for the paper flow to Trump's desk, handling nearly every document Trump signed.

The influential aide frequently traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One and was seen as helping carry out Kelly's efforts to bring order to a chaotic West Wing.

Porter reportedly organized weekly meetings for the various factions in the White House to hash out their differences on trade policy.

His exit will add to a flurry of departures by other top advisers, who are expected to leave the West Wing following the one-year mark of Trump’s presidency.

The abuse allegations became public after the Daily Mail reported that Porter was dating White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House spokeswoman leaving to join PR firm Hillicon Valley: House Intel panel will release Russia interviews | T-Mobile, Sprint step up merger push | DHS cyber office hosting webinars on China | Nest warns customers to shore up password security House Intel panel votes to release Russia interview transcripts to Mueller MORE, one of Trump's longest-serving aides.

Holderness and Willoughby both provided graphic accounts of the abuse they say they experienced at Porter’s hands.

In a separate interview with the Daily Mail, Holderness said Porter also choked her during her marriage and that he “would belittle me constantly about my weight, my sexiness, how good I looked to him or didn’t look to him.”

Willoughby filed an emergency protective order against Porter in 2010 after she said he violated a separation agreement by refusing to leave their apartment. 

According to Willoughby’s complaint, Porter initially left at her request but then returned several minutes later and “punched in the glass on a door” to gain entry, cutting his hand.

She said she then called the police and Porter apologized.

Willoughby, however, told the tabloid that she did not want Porter fired from the White House.

Porter was one of the most experienced hands in the Trump White House, which has been criticized for having a dearth of prior government service.

The Harvard University graduate and Rhodes scholar previously worked for GOP Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Steel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs MORE (Ohio) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 MORE (Utah).

He also served as chief of staff to Utah Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown MORE (R), a fellow Mormon.

"I am heartbroken by today's allegations," Hatch said in a statement. "In every interaction I've had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful."

Hatch said that Porter was "loved" by his staff and that he was a "trusted adviser."

"I don't know the details of Rob's personal life," the senator added. "Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable. I am praying for Rob and those involved."

Updated: 5:28 p.m.