White House staff secretary, and former chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rob Porter resigns after allegations of spousal abuse

(Evan Vucci | The Associated Press) In this Jan. 20, 2017 file photo, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, center, hands President Donald Trump a confirmation order for James Mattis as defense secretary, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, watches. Porter is stepping down following allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives.

Washington • Rob Porter, the former chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch, resigned as White House staff secretary on Wednesday after allegations surfaced by his two ex-wives that he had abused them.

Porter denies the charges.

Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, told the Daily Mail that Porter was abusive and that she was “walking on eggshells” during their marriage because of his anger.

His first wife, Colbie Holderness, told the British paper that Porter was “verbally, emotionally and physically abusive and that’s why I left.”

Porter, who was Hatch’s top aide from 2014 through 2017 and also worked for Sen. Mike Lee as his top counsel, served as the gatekeeper for paperwork headed to President Donald Trump since he entered office and often traveled with the president. He was one of the key authors of the president’s State of the Union speech last week.

Porter previously taught at Brigham Young University and served a Mormon mission in London.

Holderness told The Intercept that during a vacation in Florence, Italy, Porter physically assaulted her and she provided a photo showing her with a blackened eye. She had given the photo to the FBI during a background check of Porter last year.

He only punched me once, in the eye,” Holderness told the news outlet. “He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face. I think he was shocked that he had lost control to that extent.”

In a statement, Porter said the allegations are simply false.

I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

Porter, who is reportedly dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, said he’s always put his duty to his country first and “treated others with respect.”

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House,” he added.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to talk about Porter’s security clearance but said that he had been an effective staff secretary.

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

Hatch decried the allegations.

It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man,” Hatch said in a statement.

“Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name,” Hatch continued. “I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal advisor. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.”

The White House issued that statement on Hatch’s behalf.

In a separate statement, issued by the senator’s office Wednesday, Hatch said he was “heartbroken” by the allegations.

“In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional, and respectful,” Hatch said. “My staff loved him and he was a trusted advisor. I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable. I am praying for Rob and those involved.”

Lee’s office declined comment.

Democratic National Committee Women’s Media Director Elizabeth Renda issued a statement criticizing the White House for ignoring Porter’s history and its continued defense of him.

“With its dismissal of warnings about Porter’s past and continued defense of him today, the White House is turning its back on women yet again,” Renda said. “Donald Trump has created a moral vacuum in our nation’s highest office. We shouldn’t have to beg our White House to condemn domestic violence.”

Willoughby filed an emergency protective order against Porter in Arlington, Va., in 2010 saying that he had violated a separation agreement and then entered her home using a key he had not returned, according to The New York Times.

When Willoughby asked him to leave, he did but then returned and “punched in the glass on the door,” she wrote in the complaint, The Times reported.

When he heard me on the phone with the police,” Willoughby wrote in the complaint, “he apologized and begged me not to involve them.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly defended Porter on Wednesday.

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. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”

Kelly issued another statement Wednesday night, looking at Porter’s service in the past tense.

“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter,” Kelly said. “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. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”

Sanders, who announced Porter’s resignation during the White House briefing, said that Porter is “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”