US President Donald Trump on Friday (9 February) praised the work of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter who resigned after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced. Porter stepped down on Wednesday after both his ex-wives publicly accused him of domestic and emotional abuse, but he denied the allegations.
Colbie Holderness, Porter's first wife, shared photos with CNN that she said were taken after he allegedly punched her in the face in 2005. Holderness told reporters she made Porter take those photographs in "contrition".
White House chief of staff John Kelly and counsel Don McGahn reportedly knew of the allegations for months before they were made public. After Porter's resignation, Kelly said he was "shocked" by the "new allegations", adding there is "no place for domestic violence in our society".
"I stand by my 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," Kelly said in a statement.
When asked about Porter's resignation, Trump heaped praise on the former aide saying he "worked very hard" and "we wish him well".
"I found out about it very recently and I was surprised by it," the president told reporters at the Oval Office. "But we certainly wish him well, obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House and we hope he has a wonderful, hopefully, he has a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now."
Trump also stressed that Porter has maintained his innocence.
"He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that," Trump added. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well."
The president made no mention of Porter's ex-wives and voiced no condemnation of domestic violence in general.
Democrats, social media users and advocacy groups tore into President Trump and the White House for defending Porter amid the allegations. While many blasted Trump for not mentioning anything about the victims, others have called for Kelly's resignation amid the scandal as well.
"What's 'sad' is having a complete moral vacuum in the Oval Office. Domestic violence is evil, and there aren't 'both sides' on this issue," Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia tweeted. "Real leaders stand with survivors, not perpetrators."
Representative Ted Lieu blasted Trump for his "appallingly unpresidential" remarks particularly during the "watershed" #MeToo movement.
"While it is clear the current President cannot serve as our moral compass, we must not lose sight of our shared virtues. Domestic violence and abuse must always be aggressively condemned," Lieu wrote.
Award-winning singer Barbara Streisand wrote: "Donald Trump defends his departed aide who proclaims his "innocence" of domestic violence despite testimony of 2 ex wifes and clear photographic evidence to the contrary. Does Trump ever believe what women say?"
Comedian Dean Obeidallah said: "It sends a disturbing and powerful message to women across America that Trump Defended Rob Porter and wished him well. Trump made it clear that he stands with men over victims of domestic violence".