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Under pressure, Trump says he's 'totally opposed to domestic violence'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE said Wednesday he is “totally opposed” to domestic violence, breaking an eight-day silence on the allegations that led to staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation from the White House.

“I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that,” Trump said, waving his finger as he spoke to reporters in the Oval Office. “It almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know it.”

Trump’s comments capped a week of growing pressure on the White House that culminated in the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announcing an investigation into the matter on Wednesday.

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The controversy has engulfed the White House, fueling speculation that chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who worked closely with Porter, could lose his job over the issue.

Trump on Tuesday twice declined to respond to questions about domestic violence, and on Friday offered sympathy for the former White House aide without acknowledging his two ex-wives, who are accusing Porter of abuse.

Those actions led to questions for Republicans about whether Trump should speak out, adding to the mounting pressure on an administration that has struggled for a week to explain how Porter was able to work in the White House with an interim security clearance despite the allegations against him.

Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans MORE (R-S.C.) launched the probe after FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted the White House’s account of when it learned of the accusations against Porter, who was in charge of handling almost every document that reached the president’s desk.

Lawmakers and former administration officials said the allegations could have left him susceptible to blackmail.

“Clearly we should all be condemning domestic violence,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters Wednesday at a leadership press conference where the first questions were about Porter.

“And if a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there is a breakdown in the vetting system and that breakdown needs to be addressed.”

At the same press conference, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats in swing districts advised to avoid talking about immigration The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia McCarthy brother-in-law under scrutiny for earning federal contracts based on Native American identity claim MORE (R-Calif.) was publicly asked about whether he might replace Kelly as chief of staff. He said Kelly was doing a fine job and that he had not discussed the position with Trump.

The White House’s problems had deepened on Tuesday, when Wray undercut its claims that Porter’s background check was “ongoing” at the time of his ouster and that officials first learned the full extent of the allegations last week.

Wray testified before Congress that the FBI issued its first report on Porter to the White House in March 2017 and that the background investigation was closed last month.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday the timeline that she previously offered was still accurate because she had been referring to a White House office that handles security clearances that was still looking into Porter’s application.

She said she was “not aware” that anyone from the security office communicated any concerns to West Wing aides.

Sanders canceled her daily press briefing Wednesday, citing the school shooting in south Florida. That meant she was not asked questions on camera about Porter.

She also refused to answer Porter questions from reporters standing outside her office, saying the White House is focused on the shooting. 

Sanders’s explanation Tuesday was not persuasive to Gowdy, who sent letters to both Wray and Kelly, demanding information on the security clearance process and whether it was followed with Porter.

Gowdy also requested information on when senior officials at the White House were made aware of the accusations against the former staff secretary.

Those concerns were echoed by Ryan, who said the White House “clearly [has] work to do to fix their vetting system.”

The incident has raised questions about the judgment and credibility of senior White House staff members and sparked accusations that the president and his team are out of touch with the issue of domestic abuse against women.

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Porter’s ex-wives irked some Republican women and raised fears about a backlash from female voters in the fall midterm elections.

At least 19 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct and harassment. Trump has denied the allegations and the White House has said its official position is that the women are not telling the truth.

It has also overshadowed the White House’s efforts to advance its agenda on immigration and infrastructure in Congress and highlight positive economic news.

The ongoing controversy has shined a harsh spotlight not just on Kelly, but on White House counsel Don McGahn.

Kelly and McGahn reportedly learned in November there was a problem with Porter’s background check, yet Porter was allowed to remain in a key role on staff. Several news outlets reported that Porter was under consideration to be promoted to deputy chief of staff.

White House officials have repeatedly denied that top officials were fully aware of the Porter allegations until last Tuesday, when his two ex-wives’ accounts were published by the Daily Mail.

Kelly has said he would not have handled the Porter situation any differently.

“It was all done right,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

But there is frustration among many White House officials who feel they had not been given a full and accurate account of the events surrounding Porter.

Vice President Pence, who is often an unabashed defender of Trump, said Wednesday the White House could have “handled this better.”

But the vice president on Wednesday offered a full-throated endorsement of Kelly.

“John Kelly has done a remarkable job as chief of staff for the president of the United States and I look forward to working with him for many, many months to come,” the vice president said at an event sponsored by Axios.

This story was updated at 7:39 p.m.