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White House says Rob Porter scandal could have been handled better

White House chief of staff John Kelly says the scandal surrounding former White House aide Rob Porter could have been handled better. Porter stepped down after the allegations of domestic abuse were revealed to the public. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In reference to the controversy surrounding former White House aide Rob Porter, chief of staff John Kelly told reporters on Friday: "We didn't cover ourselves in glory in how we handled that."

Despite domestic abuse allegations against him, Porter had been granted access to classified information under a temporary security clearance while acting as staff secretary for the Trump administration.

It was during the FBI's background check of Porter that the abuse claims arose, which can often take seven or eight months, according to Kelly. After the allegations were exposed to the public, Porter stepped down.

Directly after Porter's resignation, Kelly called the former aide "someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character" based on the professionalism he showed at the White House. Kelly said that he knew of the emotional abuse accusations against Porter at the time, but was not aware of the claims of physical abuse by a second former spouse of Porter's.

"At that point in time, I thought that statement was accurate," he continued.

"We put out a statement of support for him and an hour later now find out there's a second report — still not in the press, still no pictures — just an inquiry by someone probably in this room that said 'Hey, his first wife of 15 years ago says there was physical abuse," Kelly told reporters. "He had already resigned."

Kelly recalled being stunned to later discover that the initial allegations of emotional abuse against Porter were true.

"It was just a shock to us all," he said. Porter has denied the claims.

Another former staffer, Hope Hicks, was dating Porter at the time of his departure, while serving as White House communications director. Hicks resigned Wednesday.

A number of sources have contradicted the administration's timeline of events regarding their discovery of the allegations against Porter, including CNN, the Daily Mail, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

According to Wray's testimony to Congress in February, the FBI first informed the administration of the abuse claims in March 2017. Kelly insisted he found out about the allegations from press inquiries.

Responding to questions on Friday, Kelly said his actions in dealing with the scandal didn't warrant his own resignation.  "I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over," he said.

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