The White House insisted Sunday that Donald Trump was “shocked and disturbed” by allegations of domestic abuse that led two staffers to resign, after the president faced flak for saying lives were being ruined by possibly false claims.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said the president pushed the two staffers out the moment he saw credible evidence against them.
Other top White House aides similarly supported Trump’s handling of the latest controversy to upend his administration.
“I think the president, like the rest of us, were shocked and disturbed by the allegations,” Conway said on ABC’s “This Week.”
White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned on Friday, even while denying his former wife’s claims of abuse, and staff secretary Rob Porter, a close aide of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, stepped down Wednesday after abuse allegations from two ex-wives that he too denied became public.
Trump initially defended Porter, whom Kelly praised as a “man of true integrity.”
Trump is said to be annoyed by the focus on the latest White House turmoil, especially as it comes on the eve of his release of a major infrastructure spending initiative.
“So many positive things going on for the U.S.A. and the Fake News Media just doesn’t want to go there,” he tweeted Sunday. “Same negative stories over and over again.”
Conway said the Kelly’s job was not in jeopardy over his handling of the matter. Critics say he badly mishandled the situation, possibly even exposing one of the ousted aides to the risk of blackmail.
‘Shattered every day’
Asked about Trump’s tweet on Saturday that lives were being “shattered and destroyed” by allegations that are sometimes false, Conway told CNN’s “State of the Union” that there was “no reason not to believe the women.”
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
Yet Trump made no mention of the ex-wives of the two former staffers, or of the alleged abuse, and his response has drawn widespread criticism from his opponents.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said the president had again shown a total lack of empathy for victims of abuse.
“The lives of survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse are being shattered every day,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The President has shown through words and actions that he doesn’t value women. It’s not surprising that he doesn’t believe survivors or understand the national conversation that is happening.”
But Conway insisted the president is “a man who shows great compassion and understanding for women.”
Several women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct before he assumed office, claims he dismisses as lies.
In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that his lawyer paid hush money to a former porn star before the election to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
A White House official categorically denied the report.
A risk of blackmail
While reports say that the FBI was told of allegations against Porter last year — and that Kelly had long known of them — Conway said Trump found out only along with other Americans.
“The president tells me he learned when the rest of us did,” she said, “the pictures, the police reports, the information provided to the FBI.”
White House legislative director Marc Short denied that Trump personally waived Porter’s interim security clearance, as the FBI made further checks on his background, to allow him to handle the highly classified documents that flow to the president’s desk.
But Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat who held the same White House job as Porter under former president Bill Clinton, said on ABC that there was “no way” Kelly did not know about the allegations long ago.
“He’s up to his neck in it,” Maloney said, noting the FBI rigorously vets applicants for security clearances.
“This guy (Porter) is never going to get a national security clearance, and yet every day he is reading our nation’s top secrets and could have been blackmailed.”
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney — who also denied being considered to replace Kelly — said Trump was inclined to give someone he had worked with “the benefit of the doubt.”
That was “probably a very normal and human reaction,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday.”
Once photos emerged showing Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye, Mulvaney said, “he was gone almost immediately.”