By Steve Holland and Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday praised White House aide Rob Porter, who resigned this week after allegations that he abused two former wives, and stressed that Porter has maintained his innocence.
“He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Trump did not express sympathy for the two women who this week gave graphic accounts of the verbal and physical abuse they said they suffered while married to Porter, who resigned on Wednesday.
But he was supportive of his former staff secretary.
“It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career,” Trump said. “But we absolutely wish him well.”
Later on Friday, the White House said a second Trump administration official had resigned over allegations of domestic abuse.
David Sorensen, a speechwriter who worked at the Council on Environmental Quality, resigned after being confronted by White House officials, spokesman Raj Shah said.
“Before we were contacted by the media, we learned last night that there were allegations. We immediately confronted the staffer, he denied the allegations and he resigned today,” Shah said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Sorensen’s former wife claimed he was violent and emotionally abusive during their two-and-a-half-year marriage, accusations that he denied, saying that she had in fact victimized him.
Sorensen told the Post in a text message that he stepped down because he “didn’t want the White House to have to deal with this distraction.”
“It should be able to focus on continuing President Trump’s historic accomplishments for the American People,” he said in the text message, the paper reported.
Porter’s abrupt departure has raised questions about how long it took Trump’s team to act on the accusations.
Some senior White House officials were generally aware of the allegations before Trump found out a report surfaced on DailyMail.com, a source familiar with the matter said.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has so far taken the brunt of the blame. Kelly told reporters on Friday that he was informed in November that Porter had allegations against him that were delaying his security clearance, but that he did not know the full extent until this week, MSNBC said.
Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders both issued statements calling Porter a man of “integrity” in response to the initial Daily Mail report that Porter’s two former wives had accused him of abuse.
Kelly later said in a statement he was shocked by “new” allegations against Porter, stressing that domestic violence is unacceptable.
Trump has been privately complaining about Kelly and wondering whether to replace him, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
“If he (Trump) draws scrutiny to himself, he’s OK with that. But when the staff draws scrutiny to him, he does not appreciate that,” said one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This source said Kelly had offered to resign, but the White House denied that, with one official saying Kelly “is doing fine in terms of where he stands with the president.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah had said on Thursday that Kelly was not “fully aware” of the extent of the allegations against Porter until photographs of one of his former wives with a black eye emerged on Wednesday.
Shah also conceded the crisis could have been better handled by senior White House officials. A source said Trump gave Shah a mild rebuke for the comment, advising him never to apologize.
Over the past two years, more than a dozen women have accused U.S. President Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances against them. In all instances, they claimed the purported misconduct occurred years before he entered politics.
Trump denied the allegations, accused rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign, and went on to win the 2016 election.
Reuters has not independently confirmed the allegations against Porter, or against Trump.
As White House staff secretary, Porter was responsible for reviewing all documents signed by the president. Trump named Derek Lyons acting staff secretary to replace Porter.
The position put Porter in close contact with the president and required a security clearance. But Porter, a Harvard Law School graduate, had not yet received that clearance because the required background check was still ongoing.
Jennie Willoughby, one of Porter’s ex-wives, told NBC’s “Today” show on Friday that she told the Federal Bureau of Investigation during Porter’s background check that he had been abusive toward her.
“Of course, I was part of the background check and I was completely honest with what my experience of the marriage, including telling the police instances of abuse or police contact,” said Willoughby.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Ayesha Rascoe and Kieran Murray; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)