Amid a White House in tumult, Trump defends former aide

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:09 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:09 AM


            FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2017 file photo, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, center, hands President Donald Trump a confirmation order for James Mattis as defense secretary, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, watches. Porter is stepping down following allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2017 file photo, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, center, hands President Donald Trump a confirmation order for James Mattis as defense secretary, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, watches. Porter is stepping down following allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump on Friday defended former aide Rob Porter, wishing him well in his future endeavors without any mention of the two ex-wives who have accused Porter of physical and emotional abuse.

Trump's comments set off a firestorm at a time of national conversation about the mistreatment of women. And they came amid rampant White House finger-pointing about who knew what, and when, about the severity of the spousal abuse allegations.

Trump said Porter, who resigned when the abuse allegations became public this week, had "worked hard" at the White House and wished him well.

"It's a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career," Trump said in his first comments on the allegations against the onetime rising West Wing star.

"He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent," Trump added.

He gave no nod to the treatment of the women whose reports of abuse led to Porter's resignation, but which he vehemently denies.

Trump's comments drew immediate condemnation from women's groups and Democrats.

They came amid swirling questions about how White House chief of staff John Kelly had handled the matter and whether he could maintain his job despite Trump's growing frustration. They also raised questions about how seriously the president takes allegations of domestic abuse.

Also Friday, a second White House staffer, speechwriter David Sorensen, resigned as a result of abuse allegations.

Spokesman Raj Shah said the White House learned Thursday night about the allegations before being contacted by the media. "We immediately confronted the staffer, he denied the allegations and he resigned today," said Shah. Sorensen worked for the Council on Environmental Quality, which is part of the Executive Office of the President.

The Washington Post first reported the allegations against Sorensen and his resignation.

Sorensen told The Associated Press Friday night: "I didn't want the White House to have to deal with this distraction. It should be able to focus on continuing President Trump's historic accomplishments for the American people."

Kelly, meanwhile, tried to push his own timeline concerning Porter in brief comments to The Associated Press and several other news outlets, repeating a narrative he had presented Friday at a senior staff meeting that contradicts accounts provided by multiple White House officials.

Kelly said he found out only Tuesday night that the accusations against Porter "were true."

"Forty minutes later he was gone," Kelly said.

The chief of staff added that the decision was made before photos of one of Porter's ex-wives with a black eye were published.

Other White House officials have said it was the release of the photos Wednesday morning that sealed Porter's fate. The staff secretary resigned later Wednesday.

Kelly told reporters the only other indication he had that something could be wrong came in November, when he got an update on pending background investigations and learned "there was some things that needed to be looked into. And literally that was it."

The chief of staff's handling of the matter has drawn the ire of Trump, according to two people who speak to the president regularly but are not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

Trump has complained that Kelly did not bring the Porter allegations to him sooner, adding to his frustrations about the chief of staff's attempts to control him and Kelly's recent inflammatory comments about immigrants.

Trump has begun floating possible names for a future chief of staff in conversations with outside advisers, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations. Among the names being considered: Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But there was no sign that a move was imminent, according to the people with knowledge of the conversations. Trump is known to frequently poll his advisers about the performance of senior staff and is often reluctant to actually fire aides.

A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly, said Friday that Kelly had not offered to resign.

The official said White House counsel Don McGahn was apprised of at least some of the accusations about Porter at least four times, including as early as January 2017. In November, the official said, one of Porter's ex-girlfriends called McGahn to describe allegations of domestic abuse by the aide.

The official said staffers felt misled by how Porter played down the allegations, both to Kelly and McGahn. And the official stressed that the FBI had at no point revoked Porter's interim security clearance.

The president's glowing praise of a staff member accused of serial violence against women was similar to Trump's own denials of sexual impropriety in the face of accusations from more than a dozen women.

Routinely, Trump has accepted claims of innocence from men facing similar allegations, including Fox News head Roger Ailes, anchor Bill O'Reilly and former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of inappropriate contact with teenage girls.

Trump's comments Friday were a sharp contrast to those of Vice President Mike Pence, who told NBC's Lester Holt "there's no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse."

Pence said in an interview in South Korea that he was "appalled" by the allegations and that he would look into the matter when he got back to Washington.

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats denounced Trump's comments about Porter and his lack of empathy for the women who alleged abuse.

"That's like saying that axe murderer out there, he's a great painter," said former Vice President Joe Biden. "Is there any other crime — and it's a crime —where there would be an explanation that the reason why we shouldn't pay attention to the transgression is because they're good at something?"

National Women's Law Center General Counsel Emily Martin said Trump's reaction to the allegations against Porter speaks to the willingness of many to believe the accused rather than the accusers.

"What that clearly says to me is that the president is one of those people who either automatically disbelieves women and believes men, or arguably even worse, believes the woman who makes the allegations but thinks that should not be a barrier to her abuser's success," said Martin.

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Associated Press writer Juliet Linderman contributed to this report.

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Follow Lemire and Colvin on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

READ MORE: Who is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

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“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

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