Some staffers who attended a Friday meeting left feeling that White House chief of staff John Kelly had effectively asked them to lie on his behalf.
WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Friday morning instructed senior staff to communicate a version of events about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter that contradicts the Trump administration’s previous accounts, according to two senior officials.
During a staff meeting, Kelly told those in attendance to say that he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from two ex-wives were credible, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions in such meetings are supposed to be confidential.
“He told the staff he took immediate and direct action,” one of the officials said, adding that people after the meeting expressed disbelief with one another and felt his latest account was not true.
That version of events contradicts both the public record and accounts from numerous other White House officials in recent days as the Porter drama unfolded. Kelly — who first learned of the domestic violence allegations against Porter months ago — issued a glowing statement of support for Porter’s personal character after the allegations first surfaced publicly Tuesday and privately urged him to remain on the job until the next day when his resignation was announced.
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At Friday’s meeting, Kelly also told subordinates to convey to other White House aides that he cares about domestic violence, according to the officials.
White House spokesmen declined to comment on Kelly’s message at the staff meeting.
The Porter crisis has damaged Kelly’s credibility not only publicly but also inside the White House, where officials said he was losing the support of some West Wing staffers because of his management of the situation and apparent lack of transparency.
After summoning reporters into the Oval Office Friday, President Donald Trump addressed Porter’s departure, saying it is a “tough time” for Porter and that “we wish him well.”
“As you probably know he says he is innocent,” Trump added, saying that Porter did “very well” in the White House.
The instructions by Kelly early Friday mark the latest twist in the White House’s shifting accounts of the Porter episode, which is consuming the West Wing for the fourth straight day.
On Tuesday night, after the abuse allegations against Porter were made public by The Daily Mail, Kelly issued a statement saying, “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
On Wednesday morning, after photographs surfaced overnight showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye, Kelly privately stood by Porter and urged him to stay in the job, White House officials said at the time.
Porter issued a statement midday Wednesday denying the allegations but announcing his departure. That afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Porter still had the White House’s support and that the decision to resign was his own. She also said his departure from the White House was not imminent.
“I can tell you that Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance,” she told reporters then.
Later Wednesday night, Kelly issued a new statement condemning domestic violence and saying he was “shocked by the new allegations” against Porter. But he also said he said he stood by his “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.”
By Thursday afternoon, White House spokesman Raj Shah said Porter had been “terminated” Wednesday and that he had cleaned out his desk.