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

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 954230

Reported Deaths: 15474
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1298902003
Lake638781106
Allen54326765
Hamilton44326448
St. Joseph42368592
Elkhart33998491
Vanderburgh30740451
Tippecanoe27012251
Johnson23862420
Hendricks22576343
Porter21943348
Clark17657231
Madison17628387
Vigo16465285
Monroe14637193
LaPorte14493241
Delaware14291225
Howard14058274
Kosciusko11562137
Hancock11022168
Warrick10793179
Bartholomew10730171
Floyd10584209
Wayne10169230
Grant9271206
Morgan9000160
Boone8507112
Dubois7823124
Dearborn776391
Henry7749134
Noble7510101
Marshall7452129
Cass7244118
Lawrence7080154
Shelby6701111
Jackson666386
Gibson6233107
Harrison613287
Huntington608397
Montgomery5903106
DeKalb587591
Knox5589105
Miami554889
Putnam547668
Clinton540566
Whitley534054
Steuben506570
Wabash492792
Jasper487763
Jefferson478992
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Adams448868
Daviess4267109
Scott413065
Clay398358
Greene396892
White396158
Wells393285
Decatur391297
Fayette383380
Posey364341
Jennings358857
Washington336847
LaGrange327375
Spencer323037
Randolph320290
Fountain320156
Sullivan311349
Owen289764
Starke287565
Fulton282356
Orange279259
Jay260038
Perry256353
Carroll247129
Franklin244938
Rush238930
Vermillion237751
Parke222421
Tipton214255
Pike214041
Blackford172934
Pulaski170351
Crawford148519
Newton147046
Benton144716
Brown136646
Martin130618
Switzerland127810
Warren116116
Union99511
Ohio80911
Unassigned0494

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1393696

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1544531574
Cuyahoga1364632341
Hamilton991581326
Montgomery682681161
Summit571661051
Lucas51927869
Butler48223663
Stark42502983
Lorain32263539
Warren30544338
Mahoning27651643
Clermont26123297
Lake24920422
Delaware22656147
Licking20886246
Fairfield20833223
Greene20708275
Trumbull20465516
Medina20236290
Clark18277332
Richland16793236
Portage16501231
Wood16002209
Allen14459261
Miami14091261
Muskingum13019155
Wayne12306244
Columbiana12094242
Tuscarawas11297271
Marion10960150
Pickaway10675129
Scioto10618127
Erie9905171
Ross9685177
Lawrence9005125
Hancock8667143
Ashtabula8533187
Belmont8301188
Geauga8294156
Jefferson7785175
Huron7598131
Union745351
Washington7451126
Athens712965
Sandusky7003135
Darke6906137
Knox6876122
Seneca6551137
Ashland6095115
Auglaize598788
Shelby5867104
Brown579072
Mercer566790
Crawford5603117
Defiance5587101
Madison552571
Highland551782
Fulton544583
Clinton537681
Logan521987
Preble5131111
Putnam4915107
Guernsey489464
Williams471582
Perry466254
Champaign456664
Ottawa444684
Jackson438763
Pike402645
Morrow400551
Coshocton398069
Fayette385253
Adams373675
Hardin369470
Gallia357858
Henry332969
Holmes3328111
Van Wert323271
Hocking312570
Wyandot286858
Carroll268252
Paulding248843
Meigs225542
Monroe193449
Noble174942
Morgan171229
Harrison161941
Vinton143119
Unassigned05
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