Trump has confidence in Kelly, aide says

White House chief of staff John Kelly (left) with staff secretary Rob Porter last year. Mr Kelly has come under intense scrutiny over his handling of domestic abuse accusations against Mr Porter.
White House chief of staff John Kelly (left) with staff secretary Rob Porter last year. Mr Kelly has come under intense scrutiny over his handling of domestic abuse accusations against Mr Porter.PHOTO: REUTERS
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders says President Trump and his administration take domestic violence "very seriously" and allegations should be investigated "thoroughly."

WASHINGTON • White House advisers have tried to quash speculation that President Donald Trump may seek to replace chief of staff John Kelly over his handling of domestic abuse accusations against an aide who resigned last week.

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday said the President had asked her to make clear he supported Mr Kelly, who has come under intense scrutiny since the allegations against White House staff secretary Rob Porter surfaced.

Mr Porter resigned last Wednesday after two former wives said he had abused them. His abrupt departure raised questions about how long it took Mr Trump's team to act on the accusations.

"He has full confidence in his current chief of staff, General John Kelly, and he's not actively searching for replacements," Ms Conway said on ABC's This Week.

Two days after Mr Porter stepped down, White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned amid his former wife's allegations of domestic violence. Both men have denied the accusations.

Mr Kelly, who defended Mr Porter as a "man of true integrity" in a statement last week, has so far taken the brunt of the blame for the handling of the case. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters Mr Kelly had offered to resign.

Other White House aides went on Sunday television news shows to stress that Mr Kelly's job was safe.

Budget director Mick Mulvaney blamed talk of an ouster on people disgruntled because they lost access to the Republican President after Mr Kelly became chief of staff last July during a White House shakeup.

"I think that talk about the chief's departure is much ado about nothing," he told Fox News Sunday.

Mr Trump had initially defended Mr Porter and praised him for doing "a very good job" in the White House. He has not made any mention of the ex-wives of the two former staffers or of the alleged abuse.

In a tweet last Saturday that did not mention any names, the President lamented that people's lives "are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation".

His response to the scandal has drawn criticism from his opponents.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said the President had again shown a total lack of empathy for victims of abuse.

"The lives of survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse are being shattered every day," she wrote on Twitter.

"The President has shown through words and actions that he doesn't value women."

But Ms Conway insisted that Mr Trump was "shocked and disturbed" by the abuse claims and pushed the two staffers out the moment he saw credible evidence against them.

While media reports say the FBI was told of allegations against Mr Porter last year and that Mr Kelly had long known of them, Ms Conway said Mr Trump found out only along with other Americans.

"The President tells me he learned when the rest of us did, the pictures, the police reports, the information provided to the FBI."

And White House legislative director Marc Short denied that Mr Trump personally waived Mr Porter's interim security clearance to allow him to handle highly classified documents.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2018, with the headline 'Trump has confidence in Kelly, aide says'. Print Edition | Subscribe