White House chief of staff John Kelly has reportedly said he would be willing to step down over the way he handled the accusations of abuse leveled at former staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned Wednesday over the allegations, the New York Times reported Friday. The White House is denying that is that case.
Kelly has come under intense scrutiny over what he knew or didn't know about Porter, and how he responded. His initial response to Porter's ex-wives' stories of physical and emotional abuse at his hands was to defend him.
"Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him," Kelly said in a statement issued Wednesday. "He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional." That statement was updated later, after a photo of Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye attracted attention. Kelly's new statement said he was "shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter." He said there was "no place for domestic violence in our society," but he also said he stood by his prior comments about Porter.
There is also the question of when Kelly knew of the allegations against Porter. Kelly was informed by White House counsel that there was an issue pertaining to Porter's security clearance after Porter's ex-girlfriend called McGahn in November 2017. The ex-girlfriend had informed McGahn of the abuse allegations from his second wife Jennifer Willoughby and Holderness. McGahn told Kelly, as CBS News' Arden Farhi, that Porter's ex-wives were saying things about Porter but Porter was denying the claims. Porter himself told Kelly the former wives were claiming false things about him. But Kelly took no action against Porter.
Kelly told colleagues that he did not have full awareness of the allegations until this week. A senior administration official insisted it was unclear whether the FBI gave a detailed account of the accusations discovered during Porter's background check.
"John Kelly would never look the other way at spousal abuse," the senior administration official told Farhi. "Would John Kelly see evidence of spousal abuse and do nothing?"
But the White House is trying to quash speculation about the prospect of a resignation from Kelly. White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah gave a firm "no" in response to the reports saying Kelly has expressed a willingness to resign over the situation. Shah also said Kelly was not terminated, and is still chief of staff.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley also said Kelly is not offering his resignation. Asked if Kelly had expressed a willingness to resign, Gidley said, not to his knowledge.
Still, two sources tell CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is being considered as a replacement for Kelly, if Kelly were to resign or be fired. Rep. Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman who has risen in prominence of late, is also a name in the mix.
Porter's two ex-wives have accused him of abusing them during their marriages. Porter's first wife, Holderness, said Porter kicked her and posted an image of her with a black eye, which she says she received from Porter punching her. Porter's second wife,, filed an emergency protective order in 2010 against Porter, whom she says aggressively dragged her out of the shower.
In the Oval Office on Friday, President Trump.
"We wish him well," Mr. Trump said. "He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's 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 career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad. Now he also as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. 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. Did a very good job while he was at the White House."
CBS News' Major Garrett, Arden Farhi and Katiana Krawchenko contributed to this report.