The Washington Post
By Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey
Image courtesy of CNN
The White House was engulfed in chaos Friday as officials scrambled to contain the fallout from its management of domestic violence allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter, even as President Trump lavished praise on the now-departed senior aide and suggested he may be innocent.
And amid the tumult, the man whose mission had been to enforce order in the West Wing, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, was focused instead on a more personal goal — to save his job — as Trump seriously sounded out confidants about possible replacements.
The president is upset with his top aide — as well as with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks — for not being more transparent with him about the allegations against Porter and for their botched public relations push to defend him, according to four officials.
Kelly and his loyal deputies have been “frantically trying to stop the bleeding,” according to one West Wing staffer. Kelly’s efforts at damage control included instructing senior aides at a Friday morning meeting to communicate that he had taken action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from both of Porter’s ex-wives were credible. That account contradicts the administration’s public statements and other private accounts.
Aides described a resulting level of dysfunction not experienced behind the scenes at the White House since the early months of Trump’s presidency. Dormant rivalries have come alive, with suspicions swirling about some of the most senior officials and the roles they apparently played in protecting Porter.
In private conversations in recent days, Trump has sounded out advisers, both inside and outside the administration, about removing Kelly, who has been on the job for 6½ months. He has repeatedly floated the possibility of hiring House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff, according to people who have discussed the matter with him.
Trump spoke out on the matter for the first time Friday. After summoning reporters into the Oval Office, Trump said this was a “tough time” for Porter and “we absolutely wish him well.” The president said nothing about his ex-wives’ allegations, nor did he broadly condemn domestic violence.
By contrast, Vice President Pence, who is traveling in South Korea, strongly condemned domestic violence and vowed to personally investigate the Porter matter when he returns to Washington and “share my counsel with the president directly.”