Defending himself weeks after the fact, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Friday insisted he had done "nothing to even consider resigning over" in his handling of domestic abuse allegations against a former top aide by the staffer's two ex-wives.
Kelly did allow that the White House team did not "cover ourselves in glory" in its response to allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter resigned last month over reports that he had abused two ex-wives. The episode at one point seemed to put Kelly's job in jeopardy and raised questions about who at the White House had access to top-secret information.
Weeks later, with the Porter matter largely in the rearview mirror, Kelly still was clearly intent on clarifying his role in how the matter was handled.
Offering his own version of events, Kelly told reporters he first learned of the allegations against Porter on Feb. 6, after inquiries from journalists. Kelly said those first queries focused on an allegation of "emotional abuse" from one woman. He said he then spoke to Porter, who resigned. Hours later, Kelly said, he learned there was also an accusation of physical abuse. At that point, Kelly said, he made sure that Porter was out.
Originally, the White House put out statements defending Porter, including one from Kelly. Kelly said he provided a statement of support for Porter after he heard only the first accusation.
"At that point in time, I thought the statement was accurate as it represented my relationship," Kelly said.
The White House did not announce Porter was leaving until a press briefing the following afternoon. And that day, Kelly said in a statement that he accepted Porter's resignation hours earlier.
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"We didn't cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that," Kelly said. "It was confusing."
Kelly described himself as shocked by the alleged abuse, saying he had viewed Porter as the "ultimate gentleman."
Questions persist about the timeline. According to two White House officials, Kelly was made aware by White House counsel Don McGahn last fall of at least the broad outlines of the issues with delays in approving Porter for permanent security clearance.
And the outlet that broke the Porter story, the Daily Mail, pushed back against Porter's account Friday, saying its reporters told the White House about physical and emotional abuse allegations, contradicting what Kelly told reporters.
Kelly came under fire for his handling of the situation, during which the White House offered conflicting explanations. Initially, many top aides rallied around Porter and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director who was dating Porter and helped draft the original statements defending him. Hicks announced Wednesday that she will be leaving the administration.
Porter had failed to get a permanent security clearance and the episode raised concerns about his access to classified information and about how long senior staffers had known about the allegations.
Kelly said he had started looking into who had clearances and any delays in granting permanent clearances last fall. But he said he was not made aware of any specific allegations against Porter.
In the wake of the scandal over Porter, Kelly ordered that White House officials with interim clearances pending since before June 1, 2017, be cut off if they hadn't received permanent clearances by last Friday.
That move resulted in the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, being stripped of his high-level security clearance amid revelations about potential conflicts of interest. The confusion over White House clearance has also invited interest from congressional oversight committees.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.