GOP senator: Trump needs to send 'stronger message' on abuse

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access Ernst elected to Senate GOP leadership McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip MORE (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE needs to take a more vocal stance on the issue of abuse amid the fallout surrounding allegations against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter. 

"I think he needs to send a stronger message, a stronger message. We need to allow women and men that have been abused to come out and make sure their stories are heard and believed," Ernst told CNN's John Berman. 

Questions have emerged as to when chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn learned of the allegations, which were brought to the attention of the FBI. Reports have surfaced that both men found out about the claims of domestic abuse against Porter last year, though Kelly released a statement defending him as recently as last week.

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"I'm not sure of the internal workings of the White House, and when they found out, what they found out. But I am extremely disappointed in this situation," Ernst said. "Abuse is never OK. It is never OK. And so I feel very bad for those women. I am glad that they have come forward." 

Ernst went on to respond to a CNN report that White House press secretary Sarah Huckagee Sanders set up an off-camera briefing to give Porter the opportunity to tell his side of the story after a photo of his ex-wife Colbie Holderness emerged, in which she had a black eye. 

"I think you can't justify it," Ernst said. 

Porter resigned from his post last week after abuse allegations from his two ex-wives surfaced in the press. 

Trump on Saturday tweeted that "lives were being shattered" and raised questions about the lack of due process after Porter and another White House aide resigned amid abuse allegations. 

Sanders read a statement from Trump at the press briefing on Monday, voicing his support for abuse victims. 

"Above all, the president supports the victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process,” she said.