John Kelly at center of response to Rob Porter controversy

WASHINGTON -- President Trump broke his silence Friday on Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned Wednesday amid reports that he abused two former wives. The White House is also facing more questions about how his case was handled.

In the Oval Office Friday, Mr. Trump had kind words for the former senior adviser.

"We certainly wish him well," Mr. Trump said. "It's obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House."

Porter and Kelly walk to board Air Force One with Trump at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (R) and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) walk to board Air Force One with U.S. President Trump en route to New Jersey from Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Aug. 4, 2017.

Reuters

As for allegations by Porter's ex-wives that he abused them, the president appeared to give Porter the benefit of the doubt.

"As you probably know, he says he's innocent," Mr. Trump said. "And I think you have to remember that."

Chief of staff John Kelly, who was in the room as the president spoke, has been at the center of the response to the Porter controversy, which the White House concedes has been mishandled.

Porter told White House counsel Don McGahn more than a year ago that his background check for a security clearance might reveal unflattering information, but provided few details.

In November, McGahn informed Kelly that Porter's wives had made accusations that Porter denied.

When the abuse allegations became public Tuesday, Kelly came to Porter's defense, stating: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor."

On Wednesday, photos surfaced of one of Porter's ex-wives with a black eye.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders addressed the allegations that afternoon.

"The president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance," Sanders said.

She later announced that Porter would resign.

That night, Kelly said he was "shocked by the new allegations," but he also stood by his "previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know."

In October, Kelly said "when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore."

Vice President Mike Pence said Friday he became aware of the accusations Wednesday.

"I was appalled when I learned of the allegations against Rob Porter," Pence said. "There's no tolerance in this White House, no place in America for domestic abuse."

CBS News has learned that Kelly told the president he would be willing to submit his resignation if the president thought was a good idea. A senior White House official says that at least for now, resignation is unlikely.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.