White House chief of staff feels the heat

WASHINGTON • White House chief of staff John Kelly is under increasing scrutiny for his handling of domestic violence allegations against a former top presidential aide after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation offered an account of events that conflicted with his narrative.

FBI director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on Tuesday that the bureau provided the White House the results of a background investigation of former staff secretary Rob Porter as early as July. The report included abuse allegations by Mr Porter's two ex-wives, a person familiar with the matter said.

The revelation is spurring fresh questions about Mr Kelly's knowledge of Mr Porter's history, including when he knew about the allegations and whether he informed President Donald Trump.

The controversy is prompting some of Mr Trump's outside advisers and allies - especially those with grudges against the former marine general - to push for replacing him as chief of staff, said several people familiar with the matter.

There is intense debate within the White House about what steps to take next. Mr Trump himself has recently floated potential replacements for Mr Kelly with advisers, according to two of the people.

Several White House officials, including some allied with Mr Kelly, no longer believe he can survive the Porter episode. Some senior staff feel he asked them to lie on his behalf. But Mr Trump and Mr Kelly have shown mutual loyalty to each other, and one person familiar with the matter said the President is unlikely to act immediately to remove him.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that Mr Kelly retains the President's confidence, and declined to comment for this story later in the day. An aide to Mr Kelly also declined to comment.

Names mentioned as possibilities for Mr Trump's third of chief of staff include White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who is doing double duty as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who is also the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House advisers were agitating for their favourites on Tuesday. Mr Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as Mr Trump's communications director, said on Twitter that Mr Kelly should step down.

It was Mr Kelly, in his first day as chief of staff, who carried out Mr Scaramucci's dismissal last July.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'White House chief of staff feels the heat'. Print Edition | Subscribe