Sources: Porter fallout won't cost Kelly his job -- for now

White House chief of staff John Kelly is facing stiff blowback as he contends with ...

Posted: Feb 9, 2018 9:18 AM
Updated: Feb 9, 2018 9:18 AM

White House chief of staff John Kelly is facing stiff blowback as he contends with another embarrassing staffing scandal, though there's no indication his own job is at immediate risk, according to two sources who spoke to President Donald Trump on Thursday.

There is growing frustration among Trump's aides and allies in and out of the White House that Kelly badly mishandled the abuse claims made against staff secretary Rob Porter, one of his top deputies. Sources say he knew for months about some claims that Porter physically and emotionally battered two ex-wives, yet didn't conduct an internal investigation into their veracity.

The unfolding scandal is raising serious questions about whether Kelly is calming -- or simply contributing to -- the ongoing chaos of Trump's West Wing. Despite the swirl of controversy, Kelly's job seems secure for now, in no small part because few close to the President can readily identify a natural replacement for Kelly should he go.

"There are a lot of knives out for him," one official acknowledged, "but the President needs and trusts John Kelly."

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Thursday that Trump retains confidence in Kelly, along with other members of his staff who were involved in the fallout surrounding the Porter allegations. But Shah frankly admitted the response, in some ways, fell short.

"I think it's fair to say we all could have done better dealing with this over the last few days," he said.

Shah declined to say when Kelly was first aware of the allegations about Porter, saying only that "he became fully aware of these allegations yesterday."

"I am not going to get into the specifics of what may have emerged from the investigation," Shah said.

Background check

One of Porter's ex-wives, Colbie Holderness, confirmed to CNN that she told the FBI during an interview for Porter's background check that Porter punched her.

In previous administrations, problems revealed during an FBI background check would have immediately gone to the White House counsel's office, who would then have conducted a review, according to a lawyer who worked in the Obama White House.

The White House has declined to say when specific members of the administration, including White House counsel Don McGhan, became aware of details. But current and former administration officials said Kelly, McGhan, and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin were all aware of some of the claims by the fall, according to officials.

Kelly's defenders in the West Wing insist that Porter misled him and others about the domestic abuse allegations, despite the outlines of the charges being known. When Porter became aware the allegations would soon become public, he implored those he was closest to in the administration -- including Kelly -- to defend him, people familiar with the situation said.

For Kelly, those denials were enough to warrant the effusive statement of support that was released Tuesday evening, which described Porter as "a man of true integrity and honor." He stuck by that statement on Wednesday, even as photographs of one of the ex-wife's bruised face emerged. By the evening, however, it became clear his position was untenable.

"I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society," he wrote in a statement released after 9 p.m., where he remained unwavering in his support of Porter.

"I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation," he wrote. "I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition."

Questions mounted

On Thursday morning, as questions mounted about why he didn't take action sooner to dismiss Porter after the abuse allegations emerged, Kelly was up early to accompany Trump to the National Prayer Breakfast, held inside a hotel ballroom in Washington.

He was smiling as he stepped from the White House South Portico with Trump and two other aides, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway and policy adviser Stephen Miller. He waved the two other advisers into the presidential limousine while he himself rode to the breakfast in a staff vehicle.

One official who spoke with Trump and Kelly on Thursday denied the President was enraged at the botched initial reaction to the Porter allegations.

"He's not mad at John Kelly," the official said of the President. "He's mad and disappointed at Rob Porter."

Trump is not known for opening his circle to newcomers, but he was taken by Kelly's military pedigree and asked him in late 2016 to join the administration as secretary of Homeland Security. In a speech last year, Kelly acknowledged he "literally did not know Mr. Trump at all" or "know anybody that knew Mr. Trump."

Trump later announced that Kelly would replace his first chief of staff Reince Priebus -- before he'd even told Kelly of his decision. His mandate was to rein in a warring West Wing and streamline the President's decision-making.

But the rigorous system that Kelly enacted when he entered his job -- which was partly enforced by Porter -- has vexed both staffers and the President himself, who was accustomed to a free-wheeling system of access. In recent weeks, aides have increasingly protested the restrictions Kelly has placed on their access to the President. A frequent complaint is how Kelly refuses their requests to meet with Trump, preferring that all information that reaches the Oval Office is first seen by him.

One White House official says that while staffers -- including Ivanka Trump, the President's daughter and senior adviser -- "have their issues" with Kelly, they realize he is critical to stabilizing the chaotic West Wing.

"She won't do anything to undermine him," one official says, adding: "If Kelly leaves, the rest of the ship goes with him."

As for Kelly's future at the White House, another source familiar with their relationship says while there are certainly days the President is frustrated with him, he is not necessarily at the point that he wants him gone yet.

Kelly, too, has aired frustrations at the job -- including threatening to quit in past disputes with the President, according to people familiar with the episodes. But he's told allies that he feels a patriotic duty to see Trump's agenda enacted.

"I get the sense that he feels like he's more on edge right now in terms of the things he's saying and I think that probably reflects a lot of frustration," said Leon Panetta, who as secretary of Defense worked closely with Kelly, who was his senior military aide. Panetta also served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. "It probably is the toughest job he's ever had. In the end he is still a human being."

"You face the same challenges every day," Panetta said. "It starts to impact both on your viewpoints and just your ability to stick with it."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 9642
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion836221331
Lake45189680
Allen32646547
Hamilton29240315
St. Joseph27260380
Elkhart24354344
Vanderburgh19292248
Tippecanoe17905133
Johnson14974293
Porter14707168
Hendricks14295248
Madison10909220
Vigo10688179
Clark10581139
Monroe9338110
Delaware9089134
LaPorte9007162
Howard8177143
Kosciusko803182
Warrick668798
Hancock6639104
Bartholomew6443100
Floyd6377109
Wayne6106161
Grant5965115
Dubois554079
Boone549467
Morgan535595
Henry505564
Marshall502684
Cass482663
Dearborn476245
Noble471257
Jackson421947
Shelby413881
Lawrence389179
Clinton372043
Gibson369159
DeKalb345964
Harrison345644
Montgomery343354
Knox334339
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Scott223439
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Randolph212848
Jennings197736
Sullivan191133
Spencer190121
Washington183722
Fountain183127
Starke174843
Jay167022
Owen163637
Fulton163130
Orange157234
Carroll156415
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Parke13038
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Union6267
Ohio4867
Unassigned0375

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 853982

Reported Deaths: 10599
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin100550707
Cuyahoga849601082
Hamilton63509448
Montgomery42863417
Summit34586759
Lucas31151616
Butler30735231
Stark25598430
Warren19552140
Lorain18847223
Mahoning17215337
Lake15967154
Clermont15800111
Delaware1430578
Licking13130137
Trumbull12739313
Fairfield1269181
Greene11975136
Medina11504168
Clark10867265
Wood10289158
Allen9826126
Portage9213108
Miami911373
Richland9085117
Marion7437113
Tuscarawas7339181
Columbiana7286124
Pickaway721750
Wayne6987171
Muskingum693941
Erie6113127
Hancock549090
Ross546098
Scioto536364
Geauga503855
Darke467892
Ashtabula451073
Lawrence450154
Union447728
Sandusky434762
Mercer432488
Huron425441
Seneca424865
Auglaize421164
Shelby420522
Jefferson416769
Belmont412740
Washington385240
Athens37669
Putnam373575
Madison352129
Knox350222
Ashland342838
Fulton336543
Defiance328282
Crawford320573
Preble319137
Brown309121
Logan305532
Ottawa290143
Clinton287943
Williams277167
Highland273718
Jackson262445
Guernsey251325
Champaign249728
Fayette235130
Morrow23124
Perry228718
Holmes223874
Henry217349
Hardin211333
Coshocton204521
Van Wert201145
Gallia195426
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Pike173917
Adams173015
Hocking171024
Carroll154216
Paulding143421
Noble120340
Meigs108024
Monroe100631
Harrison88421
Morgan82629
Vinton69513
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