White House officials fanned out Sunday with the message that President Donald Trump has confidence in John Kelly, the chief of staff under fire for his handling of allegations that a top aide abused his wives.
“He has full confidence in his current chief of staff,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said on ABC’s “This Week.” Conway noted that she spoke with Trump Saturday. “He’s not actively searching for replacements,” she said.
Kelly, a retired Marine general, knew for some time that two former wives of White House staff secretary Rob Porter had accused him of abuse — and that the trouble held up a permanent security clearance for one of the most sensitive jobs in the administration.
Kelly also defended Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after the ex-wives’ accusations were first reported Tuesday.
Conway said Trump, who in a Saturday post on Twitter decried lives “being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” had learned of the accusations against Porter only last week. He may not have read underlying reports by the FBI, which investigated Porter’s security clearance, or contemporaneous police reports, she said.
Conway also said Kelly had denied to her that he had long known about the accusations, and she said it “would be news” to her if she was under consideration to replace him.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump “has absolute confidence in John Kelly.”
Kelly “will step aside any time the president doesn’t want him to be there. But John Kelly has not offered his resignation,” Short said. “John Kelly is doing an outstanding job.”
He said the president’s frequent references to claims of innocence by men accused of sexual misconduct “is shaped by a lot of false accusations against” Trump himself.
More than a dozen women have accused of Trump of groping and other misdeeds. During the 2016 election campaign, a recording emerged of him bragging about grabbing women by the genitals. Trump said it was “locker room talk,” rather than something he actually did.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday” that it was normal for Trump and Kelly to have given Porter the benefit of doubt when he denied the allegations. As soon as Porter was proven to be wrong, Mulvaney said, “he was gone almost immediately.”
Mulvaney also dismissed the suggestion that Trump has spoken to him about taking over as chief of staff, and said speculation about Kelly’s status is being fed by people unhappy that they lost access to Trump when Kelly took over from Reince Priebus.
“Talk about the chief’s departure is much ado about nothing,” Mulvaney said. “I don’t think it’s an issue.”
Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security, said Kelly should keep his job. “As long as Donald Trump is our president, our government is best served if John Kelly is in the job of chief of staff,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The best advice for Kelly is to speak less to the media, Johnson said. “Leon Panetta once said that the chief of staff is someone who should not be the issue. And so I encourage John to hunker down and do his job, fewer public statements.”
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